The Critical Path for the Biden-Harris Ticket

Democratic presidential candidate Biden and vice presidential candidate Harris hold first joint campaign appearance as a ticket in Wilmington, Delaware
Former Vice President Joe Biden and California Senator Kamala Harris in their first joint appearance as a ticket on August 12.
Reuters/ Carlos Barria

The wait is over, and we now have the team we’re all going into the final do-or-die round with this fall.

Joe Biden has made history by choosing a woman of color — for the first time — to be a major political party’s vice presidential candidate. Kamala Harris rode to the US Senate in 2016 based on generally favorable notices on her two terms as California attorney general. And in her focused and pointed questioning of numerous unqualified Trump administration appointees and officials, she quickly captured the attention of Democrats nationwide.

Still, like Biden, Harris is not without her critics — especially regarding some prosecutorial and criminal justice decisions she made as attorney general and, before that, as San Francisco district attorney. Her presidential campaign floundered both in its lack of clear themes and in some notable flip-flops, especially in her retreat from her early support for Bernie Sanders’ Medicare For All proposal.

With both the presidential and the vice presidential candidates, what’s past is past. We must defeat Donald Trump in November. The summer polling has been uniformly promising for Biden, but he and Harris are going to need to be on their A game to defeat a Trump campaign that will do everything it can to confuse the issues, stir up hate, suppress the vote, and even prevent a fair election.

Two issues, of course, are of urgent concern to voters. The first is the ongoing COVID pandemic that the US has handled worse — by far — than any other developed nation. The Democrats must prosecute the Trump team’s failure on that front aggressively, but they must also show that they can manage a virus that has eluded even best public health practices. There are no easy answers, and as New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once observed this is the sort of crisis that is hard for any public official to surmount without facing criticism from some major portion of the population. Donald Trump’s obscene politicizing of this health emergency only makes that job harder.

The other urgent concern involves the criminal justice and racial equity questions brought to the fore by the George Floyd killing in May, which are stark challenges to the status quo, including the Democratic establishment that for too long championed or co-signed harsh policing and incarceration policies. Both Biden and Harris bear the burden of that history, and if they wish to energize communities of color and young voters they must demonstrate their understanding of the legacy of racial injustice and the need for fundamental change. As the recent battle over the police budget in New York City demonstrated, these issues demand tough calls that will inevitably divide even people of good will with roughly congruent long term visions. Biden and Harris need to be ready to challenge Trump and the nation with specific policy proposals to create real change.

Since the Democratic Party primary represented a rejection of the Sanders Medicare For All approach, it is incumbent on the Democrats to lay out in detail how Biden’s more incremental approach — building on Obamacare, with its many shortcomings — can get the nation on the road to true universal, affordable healthcare. A gauzy commitment will not be enough, especially for voters still burdened a decade into Obamacare with unmanageable health costs and choices.

The economic crisis brought on by COVID merely underscores the bleak jobs picture that too many Americans face. The Democrats have to be the Jobs and Education Party, with plans that can give Americans in all types of communities and from divergent skill levels true opportunity to live a decent life.

For the LGBTQ community, we know that the Democrats today regularly punch the ticket on our agenda. We need to be assured that among the many enormous challenges facing the nation, our needs remain priorities and get prompt action. The Equality Act, of course, is the absolute floor on our goals. Housing and healthcare for our youth must be a mission for a Biden-Harris administration. And action at the federal level, through leveraging the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Act, is needed to stem the horrifying epidemic of murders targeting transgender Americans, especially women of color. The transgender rights movement is a jobs project, offering our trans brothers and sisters and our non-binary family the opportunities that many others among us in the LGBTQ community have come to take for granted.

As we all work to achieve victory on November 3, these are the cardinal issues that we and the candidates need to keep front and center.