Opining on politics creates a junk heap of too many sports metaphors, so let me contribute a few more to the pile.
For years, one understood way of picking a vice presidential candidate was a bit like baseball: Promising prospects for the party’s future were given a promotion to the majors on the theory that if all went well, they could be sold to the American public to succeed the president in eight years.
The ’80s and ’90s saw two successive whiff on this method — former Vice President Dan Quayle was no Jack Kennedy nor a spelling bee champion (plus his boss never got the required eight years), and as Vanity Fair’s Sally Bedell Smith chronicled in painful detail in a 2007 article on the matter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore loathed each other from the moment they were paired (and Gore couldn’t quite win the succession.)
In the first two presidencies of the 21st century, the veep slot became something more like a hockey enforcer.
Once upon time, most believed neither Dick Cheney nor Joe Biden would ever ascend to the nation’s highest office. (Only one of those predictions turned out to be accurate, but I digress.)
Cheney was a solid second to George W. Bush, but wasn’t the kind of guy you wanted to meet in the hallway after you crossed him. Or in the Capitol. Or anywhere. Biden might not have been as feared as Obama’s No. 2, but he was a man who knew the ways of the Senate and what buttons to push — and most of all, he knew to make way for President Hillary.
That didn’t happen and now we have President Biden. This time, however, his campaign’s choice felt a bit like football. Biden is the aging quarterback and Kamala Harris was drafted to replace him — perhaps sooner rather than later, given our president is a man of diminishing skills.
However, she’s had a few rough starts. There was the border and the interview with Lester Holt — you know, “And I haven’t been to Europe.” There was her voter ID interview, the one where she suggested rural folk couldn’t make it to Kinko’s to copy their ID. (Nobody could, actually — Kinko’s has been closed for years.)
Now, after the fall of Kabul — compared by many to the fall of Saigon in 1975 — Kamala is off on a tour of Asia, which includes Singapore and … Vietnam.
On our way to Southeast Asia to visit Singapore and Vietnam. pic.twitter.com/DrLwSDMuhZ
— Vice President Kamala Harris (@VP) August 21, 2021
If it weren’t planned in advance, it might seem almost as if the aging QB didn’t want to give up his place in the starting lineup. Instead, with the Saigon comparisons, it looks even worse.
According to Fox News, Harris is due to arrive on visit to Vietnam on Tuesday, and the optics are likely to be awful.
“This week’s scenes of crowds gathering at Kabul’s airport and U.S. military helicopters arriving to pick up passengers at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital revived grim memories of desperate Vietnamese people trying to board U.S. helicopters as they left the embassy in Saigon more than four decades ago,” Fox News pointed out.
“The prospect of Harris visiting Vietnam at this particular moment raised the possibility of the worst photo op for an American in that country since Jane Fonda donned a helmet there in 1972.”
There were also several comparisons to “Veep,” the satirical Armando Iannucci-helmed show in which fictional politicians — usually the titular character, played by outspoken liberal Julia Louis-Dreyfuss — embarrassed themselves through timing like this.
Of course, Vietnam is not the enemy country it was in 1975, and it has a mutual interests with the United States, such as trade and rivalry with China. But there’s no denying the power of bad visuals.
In a Twitter post, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer wrote that “the VEEP writers could not have scripted this better.”
the VEEP writers could not have scripted this better
— Sean Spicer (@seanspicer) August 18, 2021
Meanwhile, conservative former GOP congressional staffer Kevin McLaughlin tweeted that, “This crew makes Veep look like a drama.”
The administration doesn’t see it that way.
“We don’t want to get bogged down in the historical comparisons,” a senior administration official said during a briefing call on Friday, according to Yahoo News.
The outlet reported that “senior aides to Harris, speaking on a background call with reporters Thursday evening, rejected those comparisons and said her team determined that her visit to the region should not be canceled despite escalating chaos in Afghanistan.”
“The vice president and her team obviously constantly assess what she needs to be doing,” one official said. In this case, this is a critical trip for all the reasons we have been discussing. And she — we are all confident that she can do this trip and pursue all of these important interests while staying engaged on the subject of Afghanistan,” one official said, according to Yahoo.
“So, you know, others can speculate all they want about, you know, what took place after the war and what that led to. They’re very different countries in very different parts of the world.
“The president, the vice president, the entire national security team have been working 24/7 and focused like a laser on working this issue and, in particular, over the last two days, obviously, getting Americans out, and others who have supported and worked with the United States on the ground, and other vulnerable Afghans,” the official said.
“And she will continue to work on those issues and be in constant contact with Washington and her colleagues during this trip.”
The Southeast Asia trip is a big one for Harris, who has sought to emphasize her foreign policy chops. However, it comes after she said she was the last voice in the room when it came to Biden’s decision on the Afghanistan pullout back in April.
(That was long before the current catastrophe unfolded, of course, but Harris’ praise for Biden’s supposed acumen is not making her look good now.)
Vice President Harris says she was the last person in the room with President Biden when he made the Afghanistan troop withdrawal decision: "I have seen him over and over again make decisions based exactly on what he believes is right" #CNNSOTU https://t.co/JEsNtFZsgq pic.twitter.com/BSRcc25J8s
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 25, 2021
“I wish the American public could see sometimes what I see, because ultimately the decision rests with him,” Harris told CNN.
“But I have seen him over and over again make decisions based exactly on what he believes is right, regardless of what the political people tell him is in his best selfish interest.”
Whatever the merits of Biden’s thinking in April, given the disastrous results of his execution, Harris has to know now that the parallels between the fall of Saigon in 1975 and the fall of Afghanistan in 2021 will be all the media talks about.
At least for right now, there’s a reason the White House is still counting on the starting quarterback to carry the team, no matter how bad Afghanistan may look.
His backup isn’t ready for the big time, and the country knows it.