Say it Ain’t So, Joe; or Where’s Hillary ClintonWhen We Need Her?

You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton

You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton

Let’s face it, being Veep* is a subservient position. But if you’re a historic first — a black woman and an Asian woman or a woman of color — it could well NOT be a stepping stone. Trump gets it.

To be clear, it being — Biden doesn’t get to call who gets the Democratic nomination, and both he and Hillary Clinton know that Harris has to begin running for president before the midterm elections of 2022, when the Democrats can expect losses in both houses of Congress. I mean, they already did poorly in this year’s congressional elections, and now you will have 66 million Trump Republicans waiting to cast their votes. While 65 percent is a GOOD thing, turnout goes both ways.

By contrast, being a historic first as a woman — as Hillary Clinton well knows — isn’t a great leadership role or thing. And by that I mean being seen as a leader (read male) who can afford to alienate any constituency.

Being a former First Lady, former junior senator from an important state, and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton knows that being historic only gets you so far.* But as President-Elect Joe Biden knows too well, being second in command, doing nothing other than waiting for bad news, is tricky when it comes to national and international leadership. Think 2010 from my epilogue in Out of Many, One or, better yet, Jill Lepore’s The Whites of Their Eyes, which she wrote in the Princeton University Press’s Public Square book series, which I, in full disclosure, edit.

Selena Meyer’s experience in Veep showed us how perilous it is to be in Kamala Harris’s historical position. Sure, it’s fictional, and only HBO, but her years as Veep showed us not only that the officeholder is in a subservient service role but that you don’t want to be anywhere near your president for the midterm, or don’t necessarily get to be seen anywhere near by your president.

Kamala Harris is shoring up President-Elect Biden. It is way better to be one of two senators of an important state, or one of one as a governor who gets to call his own show or press conferences, the way New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo does. I mean, Biden already called it — he’s a lame-duck president who won’t tempt fate and seek a second term as an octogenarian. Kamala, like him, could be next. Or will she be? Is she just the token historic?

*Hillary Clinton is now doing something else historic — running a cool podcast talking to a lot of women like the recent show on Gloria Steinem. The Kamala Harris interview was even more revealing given the tough choices she had to make as first San Francisco’s District Attorney, then California’s Attorney General. Check out

You and Me Both with Hillary Clinton

We have to look at the gendered notion of roles of presidential and vice presidential leadership. If Kamala Harris does not get enough significant stuff to do (as Biden demanded from Obama in 2008) then where will she be as she runs for president beginning in 2022? So say it ain’t so, Joe, that you’re going to give the masculine leadership positions — Secretary of State and the Attorney General — all to men.

Why would Senator Kamala Harris give up being one of two senators from the most important state besides New York — California — to be historic, sure, but to get nowhere when it comes to the Democratic nomination in 2024? Worse, if Joe appoints Andrew Cuomo to be the next Attorney General, and we already have a male Secretary of State, he’s just gendered national leadership once again. AG and Secretary of State are the only bad-ass leadership roles.

FYI, most cabinet members only serve 18 months (Trump ruined these stats. by firing everyone so these are pre-Trump stats.) Cuomo has plenty of time, then, to be the bad-ass AG male leader and still jump out to prepare for 2024 well ahead of 2022. Plus he can and will blame Biden and, by association, his competition, Vice President Kamala Harris.

So is why is Biden giving it to Cuomo, other than the very shameless self-interested politics of getting him off the COVID stage? Governor Cuomo handles the COVID crisis correctly by speaking about it to his constituents almost every day. He bested Trump, no doubt. Leadership as crisis as political management is the way to go — for a man, not a woman. Not quite the same for a woman governor, like the Governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, who literally got chased away into hiding by Trump’s people or Trump’s yelling fire in a theater — or what the FBI uncovered in terms of the plot to kill her and her family.

Being Secretary of State used to be the best route to the presidency. Being governor, particularly of a large state like New York is now. Making Governor Andrew Cuomo, the only strong leader against COVID, Attorney General is a mistake or is it? I’m too sleep deprived to tell. All I know is that for Biden to restore my faith that Democrats aren’t going to appoint women in all the service roles — he better not have a clean sweep of men in all the stepping-stone cabinet positions.

*Veep, the show, is closest to actual Washington, D.C. politics, or at least the politics that I saw as a Capitol Page, which is to say a fly on the wall, though a fly who had all her idealism about how the politics are made (i.e. how the sausage is made). I was an impressionable 16 to 18 years old, not even a college or university aged intern. Capitol Pages for the House of Representatives don’t exist anymore. since the Republicans (i.e. Speaker of the House John Boehner) realized they were jail bait. It was one thing when they were sexually harassing the girls and women (like my member of Congress who yelled “Ruthie” out to the whole of the Republican side of the floor — he was drunk — during one of Democratic President Jimmy Carter’s State of the Union addresses). I knew enough to run. My mom taught me well enough to avoid conflict, so I headed for the Republican cloak room. I knew Congressman William Ketchum was too drunk to chase me in there, and besides there was a wonderful woman who would protect me if it came to that. Veep, an inside-the-Beltway show, faithfully depicts how little politicians care about actual people, though they all care about the (or I should say now “their”) public (read their base, a base that only a Trumpster can afford to alienate). Women leaders have to practice an all inclusive ethic of care type of national leadership.

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About Ruth O'Brien

Professor Ruth O'Brien, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York (CUNY) & Honorary Unaffiliated Academic Book Series Editor for The Public Square, Princeton University Press & Heretical Thought, Oxford University Press, USA Last book: Out of Many, One: Obama & the Third American Political Tradition (U of Chicago 2013). Nickname: Professorette by Rush Limbaugh (see