One of my long-time readers is a Nobel laureate. In reaction to Brief #3, he asked me, in essence, whether I am confident that Vice President Biden would surround himself with a competent cabinet to compensate for his own alleged deficiencies. I am.
Fortunately, Joe Biden is blessed with an abundance of former presidential aspirants who could constitute his “team of rivals,” to borrow a widely-used term.
On Tuesday, he took his first major step in that direction in naming Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Now, we have our first Black vice-presidential nominee, our first graduate of an HBCU, and a woman.
It was a very mature decision. As we have been repeatedly reminded, Senator Harris pointedly took the Vice President to task during one debate for his opposition to school busing years ago. She was extremely effective in so doing, and Biden was clearly embarrassed and annoyed by it.
But, he picked her as his VP anyway.
It tells us a lot about the man.
Can we imagine the current office-holder doing that?
It is important to remember that Biden, who ran against Obama in the 2007-8 primaries, personally benefitted from Obama’s own team of rivals approach when he was selected to as his V.P. Importantly, so did Hillary Clinton when Obama appointed her his Secretary of State.
Joe Biden has the experience and demonstrably the temperament and relatively low ego (for a politician) which will enable him to assemble a strong supporting cast.
When I was an investment banker, I vividly recall the CEO of a client company telling me the secret to his success was hiring people to run the major sectors of his company who were more expert in their areas then he ever could be. He put it: “I hire people who are ‘smarter’ than I am.”
Biden has an abundance of talent among his primary rivals with which to construct an exceptional cabinet – such as Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, and Julian Castro – as well as all of the Obama administration veterans he worked with, like Susan Rice. In terms of race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, and age, this group is without precedent. With his selection of Kamala, he has indicated his willingness to tap such talent.
In September 2009, in Obamagram #45, I wrote:
I have quoted Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals many times before. In the latter stages of the book, she talks about President Lincoln’s attempts to negotiate peace with representatives of the Confederacy, quoting Harper’s Weekly:
“Indeed, nothing but the foolish assumption of four years ago, that Mr. Lincoln was unfit for his office,” could explain the fatuous predictions that he would “flinch and falter” before the Southern delegates… “We venture to say that there is no man in our history who has shown a more felicitous combination of temperament [and] conviction…than Abraham Lincoln.”
It seems fitting for our current time of racial reckoning that Goodwin’s 2005 book — which popularized the term as far as I know — was about Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War cabinet which was in office when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
A recent article in The Atlantic posed this: “[can you imagine] the powerful prospect of a final night at the Democratic convention when Biden could stand at the center of a stage (whether in person or virtually) with Warren, Harris, Klobuchar, Abrams, Buttigieg, Booker, Castro, McRaven, Rice, Garcetti, Bottoms, Yang, [Bill] Gates, or others and declare that ‘not just me, but all of us’ are coming to reset the nation’s direction.”
Penny and I met Kamala in July 2019 at an event in Chicago hosted by our friend John Rogers, who founded the largest Black-owned investment company in the country. We found her to be both gracious and tenacious. Those characteristics will serve Joe Biden well during the campaign and as he assembles the rest of his team of rivals come November.
Please, as always, pass it on.