By: Kevin D. Williamson – nationalreview.com – September 22, 2021
Vice President Kamala Harris is shooting par for the course as Joe Biden’s border czar.
Shoving the vice president off on some lonely policy ice floe is, by now, practically a ritual. Some of you may remember that Barack Obama ceremoniously charged his vice president, Joe Biden, with leading a campaign to “end cancer as we know it.” Cancer does not seem to have taken much notice of Joe Biden. Then again, it’s never been entirely clear why anybody ever did. Joe Biden is a schmuck from a mile away.
But he is an educable schmuck, at least when it involves his own survival.
Biden found himself appended to the Obama presidency because the Democratic Powers That Be were a little unsure about the Chicago tyro. Not that they would ever admit it, but Democrats were worried that Obama’s right-wing critics were right about him: that the businesslike affect was only camouflage for an old-fashioned big-city radical who was going to play Joe Cool until his inauguration and then get to liquidating the kulaks as a class. They did not want any surprises, and so they paired him with Biden, who is the antidote to surprise. For Barack Obama, who had been an obscure state senator until about two minutes before he was nominated, that was a small price to pay for power.
But things have changed for Democrats. Barack Obama did not manage to “fundamentally transform” the country, and African Americans in particular had reason to be disappointed by his failure to make very much, in terms of their practical interests, out of his messianic pretensions. Democrats might have taken Barack Obama at his word, but Joe Biden enjoys no such deference. Democrats know that Biden is not a left-wing radical — they know that he is a fundamentally lazy doofus with no particular vision for the country, who mainly wants to be president so that he can ride around on Air Force 1 and lord it over the peons who laughed down their noses at him during his 40-odd (at times, very odd) prior years in public office. Biden may not know much, but he knows that he has to give a little something to the champagne radicals and identity-politics ideologues who run the Democratic Party, hence his promise to select a black woman as his vice president. Harris was chosen as an ambassador from the permanent party interests.
Which is to say: Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s Joe Biden.
Selecting Harris must have seemed like a brilliant idea. Biden was nominated in part on the strength of black votes, but he has some problems with African Americans owing to his prior congressional incarnation as a crime-fighting drug warrior. He also has some problems with women, in part because — and here Biden’s own explanation is worth quoting — “the boundaries of protecting personal space have been reset.” Selecting Harris as his vice president was Biden’s version of an ancient political maneuver: silencing a critic by elevating her. Harris was a terrible campaigner, but she can be a vicious critic, and might very well have been one if she’d been outside the administration when California progressives ended up — as they inevitably still will — disappointed with the Biden administration.
And, by giving her a special responsibility for border affairs, Biden performed a variation on that earlier maneuver: He bought himself at least some potential goodwill by putting something substantial into her portfolio, and he set a potential rival up to fail by putting something substantial into her portfolio. Harris is the first vice president who isn’t a white man (Charles Curtis, who served as vice president under Herbert Hoover, was a member of the Kaw nation and is generally acknowledged as the first member of an ethnic minority in that role), and the traditional racial and sexual pigeonholing wasn’t going to work for someone in her position.
(Pigeonholing? There are 15 executive departments, but one-third of all the African Americans ever to serve as Cabinet secretaries have run HUD or the Department of Transportation, while none has ever been treasury secretary; a quarter of all women to serve as Cabinet secretaries have run the Department of Labor or HHS, while none has ever been secretary of defense.)
Getting control of the border seems like it should be a winning issue. One out of three Americans want more immigration, two out of three don’t. A large majority — 81 percent in the most recent Gallup poll — say that illegal immigration is either a critical issue (46 percent) or an important one (35 percent), with only 19 percent taking the blasé view. Half the country is very dissatisfied or somewhat dissatisfied with the current level of immigration. And 74 percent of Americans tell Gallup that the situation at the Mexican border is either a crisis (39 percent) or a major problem (35 percent) — and that was before the current drama with the influx of Haitian arrivals in Texas.
But border politics gets complicated. Though the Berkeley types like to denounce border enforcement as an expression of white supremacy — they will see whips even where they are no whips — many Latinos have pretty conservative views about the border. On top of that, more than half of our active Border Patrol agents are Latino. Attacking the Border Patrol means attacking a lot of good jobs held by Mexican Americans and other Latinos in places such as the Rio Grande Valley.
Harris, a creature of the Bay Area, pronounced herself horrified at the photo that has been described — dishonestly — as showing a Border Patrol agent “whipping” Haitians. The Agence France-Presse photographer who took that famous photo describes it less dramatically, saying only that the agents had “twirled” the reigns of their horses at the Haitians, and that the situation was “tense.” Using men on horseback for crowd control is hardly unprecedented — New York City has been doing it forever, and San Francisco has had mounted police since Abraham Lincoln was president.
Harris is an identity-politics operator who has been given a portfolio that is not amenable to being filtered through that lens. Getting control of the border will take a complex effort demanding expertise in everything from national security and intelligence, to law and law enforcement, to diplomacy, to practical commercial considerations, and, in some cases, construction and engineering.
If you are wondering how in the world anybody ever thought that a mediocre lawyer and political hack such as Kamala Harris was going to master all that and actually do something about our lawless border, the answer is obvious.
No one did.
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