Joe Biden Can’t “Heal” the Country by Picking the Right Running Mate

Klobuchar seated with her hands clasped under her chin.
Amy Klobuchar during a hearing about police officers’ use of force on Capitol Hill on June 16. Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call Inc. via Getty Images/Pool

Last week Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said on MSNBC that she has told presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden she does not want to be considered as a potential running mate. Klobuchar’s past as an aggressive prosecutor in Minneapolis would have made her a controversial choice for the role in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and her comments on MSNBC alluded obliquely to that political reality:

After what I’ve seen in my state, what I’ve seen across the country, this is a historic moment, and America must seize on this moment. I truly believe, as I actually told the vice president last night when I called him, that I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket. There are so many incredibly qualified women, but if you want to heal this nation right now, my party, yes, but our nation, this is sure a hell of a way to do it.

Klobuchar is not the only politician who has reacted to nationwide Black Lives Matter protests by suggesting that Biden (who has previously said he wants a woman to be his VP nominee) should choose a nonwhite running mate. Her belief that doing so would “heal this nation,” though, suggests that she has not given much attention to the protests’ substance.

Protesters’ demands vary city by city, but they share a few themes. Most directly, marchers have called for the prosecution of the police officers who killed Floyd in Minneapolis; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky; and Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, and for action against officers who’ve become violent during otherwise peaceful protests. At the level of policy, there are pushes for police departments to be dissolved and/or for large parts of their funding to be diverted to social services. Activists, legislators, and writers have also raised the connections between Floyd’s death and other manifestations of systemic racism— issues like school segregation, housing segregation, and economic inequality—that have gone unaddressed, or have been addressed inadequately, for decades. Protesters have fought for the removal of statues and monuments that celebrate soldiers and political officials from the Confederacy; within workplaces, Black employees have pressured executives to diversify predominately white management levels.

On Monday, the progressive polling group Data for Progress released the results of a survey about Biden’s potential running mates. Among nonwhite voters under the age of 45, the most popular potential pick was Elizabeth Warren, who is known for a wide-ranging system of proposals intended to attack the concentration of wealth and economic opportunities among (predominately white) members of the existing upper class. The other top two choices were California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Georgia state House of Representatives minority leader Stacey Abrams, who became nationally known for her underdog 2018 gubernatorial campaign and her corresponding work to reverse the national trend toward the disenfranchisement of nonwhite voters.* As Perry Bacon writes in FiveThirtyEight Tuesday, Warren’s prominence alongside Harris and Abrams in that poll, and others which show similar results, indicates that nonwhite voters—particularly the younger and more progressive ones who are more likely to be participating in protests—are considering potential veep nominees’ worldviews in addition to their identities. But it should also be noted that none of the potential VP choices, Warren included, had the support of more than a third of respondents. There is no Black Lives Matter groundswell behind any particular candidate. Members of the movement have articulated many goals, but none of them have said their concerns begin and end with the Democratic Party’s vice presidential nominating process.

As the Confederate statue question demonstrates, many protesters are concerned, deeply and to the point of putting their own safety at risk, with matters of symbolic representation. But one only needs to read the news to know that they aren’t only asking to be symbolically acknowledged. They are asking for the symbols and the substance of their country to be transformed in order to rectify injustices created by racism. In short, they are asking Democratic politicians not to casually reveal a belief that one gesture of inclusion would be adequate to “heal” the United States.

Correction, June 23, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Stacey Abrams’ first name.

Correction, June 24, 2020: This piece also misstated that Abrams ran for Senate in 2018. She ran for governor.