Stepping into history as the Democratic nominee for vice president, Kamala Harris will offer her life story tonight as a model of what America can achieve when it chooses diversity over division and unshackles itself from prejudice and pessimism.
In a moment without precedent, California’s junior senator — the daughter of a mother from India and father from Jamaica — will become the first woman of color to run on a major party ticket. She is the first Black woman and the first South Asian woman ever nominated and the first politician West of the Rockies elevated by Democrats.
Harris will cite the vision instilled by her mother of “a country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect,” according to prepared remarks.
“Today, that country feels distant,” she will say. “Donald Trump’s failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods.”
Harris will call the November election a choice between an incumbent president who sows chaos and division, and “a president who will bring all of us together — Black, white, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want.”
Harris' acceptance speech will cap the third night of the Democratic National Convention, which is taking place mostly online due to the coronavirus. A parade of party leaders will extol the leadership and experience of Joe Biden, who heads the ticket, and will offer an alternative vision to President Trump's anti-immigrant policies and hostility to protesters seeking social justice.
In unusually direct criticism of his successor, former President Obama will say that Trump never grew into the presidency or put in the work required, and instead has sought to incite division, help his friends and seek attention for himself, according to excerpts of his speech released Wednesday.
“The consequences of that failure are severe,” Obama will say, citing the 170,000-plus Americans who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic and the tens of millions who have lost their jobs.
“Our worst impulses unleashed,” Obama will assert, “our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”
The night's program also includes several path-breaking women, including Hillary Clinton, who was the Democrats' 2016 presidential nominee, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
Nearly four years after a lack of enthusiasm helped cost Democrats the White House, one speaker after another will warn against complacency. More specifically, they will vow to aggressively fight Republican efforts to restrict voting by mail and hobble the U.S. Postal Service.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was,’” Clinton will say, according to her prepared remarks. “’I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worse, ‘I should have voted.’ Well, this can’t be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election. … Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.”
A day after the 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote, the event will look back — virtually — at the suffrage movement and look ahead toward implementing a progressive agenda that confronts economic inequality, climate change and school violence.
“I’ve seen firsthand Donald Trump’s disrespect for facts, for working families, and for women in particular — disrespect written into his policies toward our health and our rights, not just his conduct,” Pelosi will say. “But we know what he doesn’t: that when women succeed, America succeeds.”
For all the history, Harris’ role as vice president is carefully prescribed: to take the fight to Trump and let Biden stay on a relatively higher plain. The former prosecutor, who thrilled Democrats nationwide by lacerating Trump’s aides and nominees in Senate hearings, will take to the chore with relish.
“We have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she will say.
In her address, Harris plans to focus heavily on Biden and why he is the right leader at this fraught moment.
But the ultimate testimonial for Biden may come from Obama, who will speak just before Harris.
Obama and Biden were rivals in the 2008 presidential campaign before Biden dropped out of the race. Earlier, serving together in the Senate, Obama had chafed at what he considered Biden’s verbosity and self-import. His decision to pick the senator from Delaware for vice president was purely pragmatic: Biden's vast experience filled glaring holes in Obama’s thin resume.
That all changed, Obama will say, when they served together in the White House.
“Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn’t know I’d end up finding a brother,” Obama planned to say. “Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief.”
“Joe’s a man who learned early on to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: ‘No one’s better than you, but you’re better than nobody,’” Obama will say.
Obama is likely to join Clinton in emphasizing voting rights and the urgency of the fight against disenfranchisement, of Black and brown voters in particular.
The issue has grown more acute as Trump has sought to undermine confidence in the election and the U.S. Postal Service has cut back service despite an expected flood of mail-in ballots during the pandemic as voters seek an alternative to in-person voting.
Warren is expected to deliver a forceful call to arms on the economy. She is a favorite of the progressive wing of the party and fierce proponent of an expansive wealth tax, college debt forgiveness and "Medicare for all."
All of that, however, will be a preamble to Harris’ boundary-shattering nomination.
Born in Oakland, she spent much of her childhood in Berkeley before starting her political career across the bay in San Francisco. She was elected district attorney in 2003 and after nearly two terms used that as a springboard in 2010 to become California’s attorney general.
Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016, but even then had her sights set on higher office. When she launched her White House bid in January 2019 with a splashy Oakland rally, she immediately established herself as one of the Democratic front-runners.
Her faltering performance failed to match the superlatives that surrounded her entry, however, and she was the first major candidate to drop out in December 2019, before any votes were cast.
It was the first election Harris ever lost, but her efforts were hardly for naught.
Her time on the national stage was one of the important factors that made Biden select her as his running mate — notwithstanding a heated clash at the first Democratic debate in June 2019 — setting the stage for Wednesday’s walk into the history books.
Halper reported from Washington and Barabak from Milwaukee.