Photo: Kim Raff / Bloomberg via Getty Images
Artillery Row

Ms Harris would like to speak to you

The Democratic VP candidate’s officious manner betrays a bureaucratic vindictiveness

Pardon me, America? Yes, um, Ms. Harris in HR would like to see you right away.

Oh, really? Hmm. What have we done?

You see, America has been very naughty. Four years ago the little people who live in the rustic interior of the country broke up the coronation of the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua and installed the usurper Donald, the Duke of Orange. America’s ruling class is not happy and they’ve found someone to settle the score.

For C.S. Lewis, the symbol for Hell was “something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern.” He had never dealt with a modern corporate human resources department which combines the most poisonous aspects of both.

Last night, Kamala Harris presented herself as nothing so much as the hectoring, assistant vice-president of Human Resources who noticed a few forms in your file were out of order. And then there’s that matter of those tweets you sent out last month. Not very PC. Some of your co-workers don’t feel safe. You know we have policies about this. You signed the employee handbook. Do you like working here? You know your stock options don’t vest for three more years, right?

Her officious manner betrayed a petty bureaucratic vindictiveness that made her less likeable even than Hillary Clinton. That is perhaps Harris’s most noteworthy achievement in a career marked by, well, not much of anything. Harris parlayed her intimate relationship with a married Willie Brown into a quick start in California’s Democratic Party and then basically won the intersectional Olympics in America’s wokest state.

Senator Harris has been sent by the Obamas to straighten things out. She was always their pick, but Democrats couldn’t seem to get too excited about her during the primaries. Tulsi Gabbard effectively ended her bid in one, devastating 30 second fusillade. But with Joe Biden nearing 80 and, let’s face it, having lost more than a step to age, Harris was put in place to be the woke, vindictive, iron fist inside the tattered velvet glove.

But she gave the game away last night. In poker there are “tells”, little tics that give away a player’s real position. Maybe he tugs at his earlobe whenever he has a good hand. For Harris, it was how she called Biden “Joe” throughout the night, but Barack Obama was always, “President Obama.” That juxtaposition perhaps exposes a respect for Obama that she does not have for her current boss.

Where Vice President Pence was calm, reassuring, competent, and professional, Harris displayed an attitude of entitled incompetence. There were a few moments worth noting.

At one point, Pence asked Senator Harris whether she and Joe Biden would pack the Supreme Court if they won the election and Amy Coney Barrett were confirmed before the inauguration day. Last week Biden flatly refused to answer the question. Harris bobbed and weaved and put the worst possible look on avoiding a perfectly reasonable direct question about a hugely consequential matter. Her evasion is significant and only serves to reinforce the impression of a ruling class that mouths pieties about “the American people” and “our democracy” but refuses to play it straight when it matters.

This led to another exchange in which Harris played what she thought was an ace regarding the Barrett nomination. She said, “Oh you want to do a history lesson.” And then explained how just before the election of 1864, Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court died leaving a vacancy. Get it? There’s a parallel here, Vice President Pence. Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s first Republican president, did not appoint Taney’s replacement before the election. There’s the precedent! Game, set, and match.

Not so fast. Taney died on October 13th. The senate, to which the president’s nomination would be submitted for confirmation, had been in recess since early July so there was no body to whom Lincoln could submit his nomination. But when the senate returned to session on December 6th, Lincoln submitted Salmon Chase who was confirmed that very day. Since Senator Harris is so interested in historical precedent and the senate is currently in session, perhaps they should confirm Barrett today, or at latest tomorrow.

The worst part of that exchange is not that she was wrong. It’s that it was intentionally misleading. She cherrypicked the facts to create a false impression with viewers in the correct belief that Pence wouldn’t know the specifics of that nomination.

Contrast her low-rent gamesmanship with Pence’s performance. He displayed a broad knowledge of the issues, and admirable, workmanlike discipline. He was never rattled. He was unfailingly polite. He was focused. And he was steady. He looked almost purpose-built to reassure wavering Trump supporters after last week’s debate. More important, his unflappable Midwestern demeanour and straightforward competence was just the thing to attract undecided voters in battleground states many of which near Pence’s home state of Indiana.

When it comes to the top of the ticket, there are no Democrats that are legitimately excited or inspired by Joe Biden as Joe Biden. Many (most?) would vote for a jug of spoilt milk if it meant getting rid of Trump. And there are many former Bernie supporters who reject him outright. Trump has a solid, enthusiastic base, but it’s not enough to win a majority in the electoral college. Between those two camps are the leaners, persuadeables, and the know-nothings. If they were watching the candidates for Vice President the choice is between the lady from HR who can get you fired and Mike Pence, the guy who shows up on time, does his job with quiet competence, and fills in for you when you’re sick. In most elections, the Vice President doesn’t matter much. This year it could be the difference in critical states like Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover