Wednesday, August 17, 2022

For Kamala Harris, questions about the legacy begin now

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Hello, Broadsheet readers! Google’s artificial intelligence ethics scandal continues, the Atlanta dream could have a new owner, and for Kamala Harris, a historic grand opening was the easy part. Have a great Thursday.

– And after? Yesterday was the time of Americans and political observers around the world be obsessed with history, pageantry and “Radical normality” of the inauguration of Biden-Harris: symbolic fashion, the moving verse, the healthy, meme-ified mittens. But as the fireworks sparkled over DC, what was left was the four-headed monster of a crisis facing the new administration.

Of course, the Biden-Harris administration is fully aware of the unprecedented situation it finds itself in; seize power amid an out of control pandemic, recession, climate catastrophe and an uphill battle for racial justice and racial equity. “Few periods in the history of our country have been more difficult or more difficult than the one in which we find ourselves now”, declared the president Joe Biden said in his inaugural address.

Swearing in, Vice President Kamala Harris, in purple and pearls, promised to meet these challenges. And as the most influential vice president in history and the Senate tiebreaker, it can be seen as more responsible than its predecessors for the outcome of the administration’s program.

But these four coincident crises, gigantic as they are, aren’t the only headwinds Harris faces. The question of personal inheritance usually arises towards the end of an administration, but the historic nature of Harris’ tenure means that she will have to address this issue immediately. Harris has already vowed not to be the last female vice president, but making sure the trail she’s drawn doesn’t turn cold depends as much on what Harris can control – her policy portfolio, her hiring of other women, his public profile – as he does about what she can’t: how still skeptical Americans perceive her.

Like other women who are “ first ” or “ alone ” in their field, it will be unfairly seen as a litmus test of whether a woman, anywhere, can do the job. Being a woman of color, which subjects her to a racist double standard, only raises the bar she must cross.

Harris has been tasked with threading this seemingly impossible needle before in her career, albeit on stages significantly smaller than the one she descended on yesterday. The stakes are high this time around and Harris’ approach is different. As Politico reportsHarris used to refer to being a “first” as “the ass in the room” – because she’s a Democrat, got it? – and tried to get off topic. But now she is embracing the descriptor.

In that sense, she takes heed of the advice that Valerie Jarrett, a senior Obama assistant, has for the new vice president who is in uncharted territory with few benchmarks, faces multiple national crises and carries the weight of l story – while considering his own career progression.

“[Be] true to what got you into public service in the first place, ” Jarrett told Politico. “So that should encourage you not to hold back, but to push.”

Claire Zillman

Today’s Broadsheet was organized by Emma Hinchliffe.


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