Skip to main content

In 1968, after the shock of assassinations, the Democrats self destructed on the streets of Chicago over blood in Vietnam and whether being there was defending a nation from communist insurgency or upholding American imperialism. Meanwhile, with a secret plan to end the war, comeback kid (or comeback used car salesman) Richard Nixon took the Republican nomination and picked Maryland Governor Spiro T. Agnew, a running mate that had America asking, "Spiro Who?"

spiro who

A dark horse running mate wasn't unusual in American history. But in the tv age, introduced by the Kennedy vs. Nixon election of 1960, an unknown face seemed risky and more than a little shocking. Especially after Nixon lost to Kennedy mostly because his 5 o'clock shadow looked sinister on tv.

In the tv age, introduced by the Kennedy vs. Nixon election of 1960, an unknown face seemed risky and more than a little shocking.

His ticket prevailed in '68, but Agnew wouldn't be there to become president when Nixon resigned amidst Watergate. That's because federal investigators caught up with Spiro first, for his own indiscretions in his home state. Hence, Nixon was able to hand-pick Gerald Ford to be the nation's only president who never won a national election. That, admittedly in suspicious times, reinforced suspicion of a complete unknown being put in line for the White House.

Fast forward to John McCain picking dark horse Sarah Palin in 2008. Conventional wisdom holds that she, being such a demonstrable dumbass, cost him the election.

Still, it made her a celebrity. Or it made Tina Fey a bigger celebrity impersonating her on Saturday Night Live. Either way, America has a need for celebrities to fawn over, stalk, bombard with fan mail, or ridicule, and even insipid reality tv cranks out "reality stars." Thus, with just over three months 'til the 2020 election, it seems risky to propose picking a running mate that America does not know, to be positioned a heartbeat away from the Big Chair—when it is being sought by a guy who is easily portrayed as a rather doddering old man.

Nevertheless, in a widely-read piece, Wednesday's "Daily Kos" advocates an obscure California congresswoman as Joe Biden's running mate. Their reasoning is crazy. Plus, they ignore every other tenet of conventional politics. Starting with, it never helps a ticket to pick a veep from a state you already have in the bag. Especially with acute concern over Electoral College math.

The Kos piece picks Congresswoman Karen Bass, current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and former speaker of the California Assembly. Decent credentials, which makes it a bigger head scratch that nobody knows her.

The heart of the Kos argument?

"... most importantly, Donald Trump has no idea who she is.

Their long article examines other potential choices and dismisses them one by one, though they don't ever really dismiss Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Odd, since the title of the Daily Kos piece is, "For VP, my heart says Warren, but the times call for this choice instead."

Their reason not to pick Warren? They assert, "... the fact is that the election would suddenly pivot around 'Pocahontas.'"

So, the Dems should only prepare to play defense and solely because of childish name-calling? That's not how you win the Super Bowl. Hell, it's not how you win at intramurals. Somebody does a banana-fo-fanna and now you're out of the running? But it's the whole notion of just playing defense -- in an anticipatory elimination game, without the opponent even on the field -- that is most troubling. The Kos advocacy's emphasis is to assert why each of the other leading potential choices is a bad idea -- Kamala Harris, Val Demings, and Susan Rice. And in each case, their statements would suit the coach preparing a cornerback, not a quarterback.

Their article, authored by their "staff," has a first-person voice throughout. It uses Ime, and my. So, playing dodgeball on whose advocacy is evoking the choice of "my heart" is a little weird. Same for saying so little about the choice they advocate. This is pretty much all they have to say to promote Congresswoman Bass:

"Remember, the more Trump flails, the more we win. If you give him a known target, he can build off existing attack narratives, giving the right-wing media machine easy ways to rile up and motivate their racist base.

"But you give them someone who is as unknown as Bass, what do they do? They don’t have time to create entire narratives about her. They’ll just call her a 'liberal extremist' and move on. But as we’ve seen, that’s not an attack line with any real salience outside their deplorable base. They’ll claim she’s one of the 'squad' or other such nonsense, but again, it won’t land. They might attack her for being from California or Hollywood, but who cares.

"Fact is, they don’t have the time to find anything real on her, not when Biden is running away with the map and Trump is shooting himself in the face every single day.

"Call this the 'do no harm' approach, or maybe Napoleon’s 'Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake' strategy. Either way, Biden picks someone who doesn’t give Trump and his base new life; lets the progressive activist base know that he has their back; honors this social-justice moment; and honors the very voters who gave him the nomination.

"Karen Bass for VP."

You've gotta be kidding, Mr. or Ms. "Kos Staff." Napoleon? The guy who had the battle of Waterloo won in the morning, until he overconfidently took a nap and lost in the afternoon?

The Dems veep pick matters hugely. And we want to examine why, in terms the mysterious Kos endorser chooses to ignore.

You've gotta be kidding, Mr. or Ms. "Kos Staff." Napoleon? The guy who had the battle of Waterloo won in the morning, until he overconfidently took a nap and lost in the afternoon?

The Dems veep pick matters hugely. And we want to examine why, in terms the mysterious Kos endorser chooses to ignore.

Biden's pick is determinative because it must be transcendent, beyond defeating Trump. That's because whether or not a functional Democratic Party emerges in 2021 is very much at issue. We're already seeing an emphasis on beating Trump strictly to evict him and his minions, without putting much out there in terms of detailed policy proposals. What would you do? and Why do you want the job? are two of THE most important questions to average prospective voters.

In fact, the two candidates who did present specific and comprehensive proposals -- Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren -- are still the two who command the most passion with the electorate, including the greatest ability to fundraise on behalf of other candidates or causes. That includes Warren as the champion fundraiser for Biden, as the Kos piece acknowledges.

Sure, Trump is torpedoing his own fleet at anchor, but that's not enough to assure he will be beaten, or that his ideological spawn will be flushed from the hatchery. Even if Biden wins, that certainly is not enough to assume an excited, energized Democratic Party will be born out of the election of a lackluster, uninspiring, corporatist nominee whose most compelling quality is that he's not Trump. There is so much more at stake than who runs things -- or more likely, is the national figurehead -- for four years.

Frankly, the corporate establishment Democratic Party will not succeed in truly bringing the progressives back into the fold unless the veep nominee has the solid bonafides to counteract Biden. With time short in this unique year, those bonafides include already being an icon who can draw and excite an online crowd, like flipping a light switch. That's needed to get an online crowd who will diligently work the phone banks to the swing states. The veep nom needs to shine as a star, not be another front porch bug bulb.

Then, post-election -- though it's an ever-present campaign issue -- she must be someone who can govern when old slow corporate Joe has a stroke. Since he guaranteed he would select a female running mate, and there's only one person out there who can do all those things, he needs to pick Elizabeth Warren.

Of course the subtext is unifying the party, not just for November, but to provide a majority of grassroots supporters who will both enable and demand action to undo immeasurable harm. Part of that is appealing to ALL who seek economic and social justice, without anyone feeling the attention is only going to black voters and therefore leaving them out.

Again, that requires Elizabeth Warren.

Otherwise, here's what will happen: whether or not enough progressives and disenchanted others hold their noses and vote for Biden, the Dems will be unable to halt a post-election movement to establish a new progressive party. (Small "p" because its name is tbd from several extant possibilities.)

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

It will happen in a modern equivalent of the Dems old FDR coalition born from turmoil and disgust at inequity and others playing casino with everybody's money, and ultimately with desperation and uncertainty of mismanaged life-and-death. It won't all be based on the pandemic and George Floyd. The urgent need was already there to give voice to plaintive demands to make things better and undo the inside track of the privileged and of bloated wealth. And when the most observantly articulate of all who have "had enough" take even a single look at the governing Dems, the defining acts of the already evolving movement will happen outside the Dem Party. Simply because the D/R-R/D establishment either continues to condescend to those expectantly in need, and / or continues to pitch the same old con jobs -- when everybody is sick of both escapist tactics from establishment kingmakers in both parties.

Or it could even happen because the hyper partisan party bosses arrogantly proclaim a Biden victory means they are the "real America," so get on board or get out of the way. That route would, in fact, be a corporate funded centrism that would almost exactly mirror Trumpism, and disaffect grassroots Dems the way Trump disaffected establishment Republicans.

A progressive party will happen, as a coalescing of these and other current breakaway movements who demand we -- 

  • end endless wars; 
  • block warconomy control; 
  • ban every kind of military firearm from America's streets (add to that now, banning from America's streets camo-bedecked paramilitary federal agents with assault weapons);
  • end corporate influence; 
  • block all big donors; 
  • make voting easy, universally accessible, and make it worth doing in the eyes of the majority that doesn't vote;
  • guarantee health care as a right of citizenship / human right;
  • pay reparations to descendants of slaves; 
  • finally make a once-and-for-all decision about immigration policy and stop catching people in mousetraps where their kids are ripped from their arms; 
  • reinvent law enforcement along the lines of public safety, and not belligerence under color of law.
  • achieve social justice in enough of a tangible form to prevent recurring disillusionment (absolutely necessary if you expect the masses to vote, for anybody); 
  • fund both science and infrastructure improvements so no future pandemic catches us with our skivvies around our ankles, and our people can ride 200+ mph trains like they have in Europe and Japan and China, and no asteroid strike (for which we failed to prepare) can sterilize the planet;
  • make education taxpayer-paid through advanced degrees;
  • de-fund Big Oil, Big Chemicals/Big Ag, Big Banksters, and every Fat Cat with his paw in the public till;
  • move immediately to address their concern, as the ultimate breakaway movement -- commit to act for those of us rapidly becoming single-issue zealots -- to reverse climate change because everything else is re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, if we don't.
  • If that sounds like a list of things that a lot of people you know have in common, that's only part of the point. Thing is, every one of those causes has adherents who look first to have THEIR cause be emphasized. And with the deplorable record of legislative Dems whose lip service seldom produces real change, people are fed-up. Just ask Eliot Engel. Not much differently than how conservatives were fed-up with their party establishment when they made Trump their 2016 nominee.

At this point, somebody will tell you to just wait, and the disaffected corporate establishment Republicans will be the ones who break away into a new party. After all, they're halfway there with millions of dollars going into those Lincoln Group ads.

The ones saying wait have reason to. Let the Trumpertarians with the Pencites keep their creationist holier than thou My Pillow zealotry for an Orange Imbecile who has literally broken every one of their Ten Commandments, and the standard old trickle downers can stream and scream out the Coronapalooza Republican Convention exits and go make their new party.

Fine. Except a Democratic Party "alternative" will always default like it does now, to the perceived safety of a lowest common denominator of the fantasy Iowa farm family of conservatives. Just like the adage of the next war being fought with the tactics of the last one, establishment Dems are still looking to pick-off Nixon's Silent Majority and the Reagan Democrats. Moreover, they value courting them more than empowering their party's natural grassroots base. That Iowa family of Jeffersonian yeoman farmers is a fantasy fueled by corporatists of both parties who deny urban rent-controlled apartment living, and needing second jobs in the gig economy to make rent, and people who can't handle a $400 emergency. Oh, they may give lip service to the collective realities of most "real" Americans, and members of Congress from those districts make impassioned arguments to address those needs. Even as Nancy Pelosi's fundraising for Democrats gives equal shares to conservative Dems who vote 80% or more with Trump.

Thus the failed Democratic Party has earned its place on the junk heaps of irrelevancy and hypocrisy -- not just the failed Republicans.

Of course, any new American political party loses for awhile. Then one of four things happens: it gives up and breaks up ("Bull Moose" Progressives); its agenda, or enough of it, is adopted by a major party, so its perceived need looses steam (the Green Party in the US); the shine wears off and its registrants drop to insignificant numbers (Peace & Freedom Party); or it wins big and captures momentum that the tired old beholden parties no longer have (Republicans, founded in 1856, winning the Presidency and seats in Congress in 1860, and maintaining control until 1932).

Because it was established for existentially compelling reasons and is an international phenomenon, the Green Party really deserves its own fifth category, with things here and in Europe still tbd.

In the face of any defection or dilution -- as they will angrily brand it -- the Dems will scream and yell that 2022 must secure everything, and of course that's with them in charge of everything, because the spectre of Trump could rise like a stalking zombie and still kill us all.

The progressive coalescence will counter that corporatists protect corporatists and, once lunatic Trump is gone, it is essentially irrelevant whether they are Democratish corporatists or Republican't corporatists.

The one way that entire scenario might be held off? Elizabeth Warren is elected veep, Biden strokes out, and Liz becomes the next Teddy Roosevelt.

Thing is, whether her administration succeeds to giddy proportions or succumbs to GOPper sabotage, the various malcontents would largely stay with the star of a Progressive Democratic Party to support her as the disaffected progressives' collective best chance.

But pick a veep nom for in-vogue reasons? As a compensatory act of penance based on race? Instead of the proven ability to inspire and engage and involve -- along with the requisite legislative bonafides. Or make the pick because the thoroughly corporatist head of the ticket is comfortable with a person who has the same sense of things as himself? It's the post-nap afternoon at Waterloo. Then, just as Napoleon's allies quietly took their troops from the field, prepare for the mass migration to Splitsville.

To return things to the appropriate American lexicon, it will not simply be a desertion from a Dust Bowl that holds no promise. Like those who migrated away in those times, it will be a move that's half digusted escape, half hope because it probably can't get any worse than the lies and unkept promises and vanished possibilities, so somewhere (somewhere else), there must be greener pastures. And life is too damn short to countenance the same tired fairy tales and work yourself to death for your kids to have less than you do.

The departure may have placards and signs, or it may display only myriad tweets and the slogan equivalents of middle fingers. Everyone is adept at the latter, given Covidology 101 and the trail of the Ochre Ogre. It will be characterized most by clacking keyboards.

And as they -- we -- go, listen for the old song by The Who: "(We) Won't get fooled again."

It's amazingly relevant. Here are the lyrics.

"Won't Get Fooled Again"

As performed by The Who, written by Pete Townshend in 1971.

[Verse 1]
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgment of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
And I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again

[Verse 2]
The change it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold that's all 
 (alt: ...liberated from the poet's song)
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war
 (alt: ...flown in the last war)


I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
For I know that the hypnotized never lie
(Do ya?)

[Verse 3]
There's nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Is now the parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight


Meet the new boss.
Same as the old boss.


Larry Wines