The Kamala Harris pick in historical context

Chisolm

Over at The Conversation, University of Florida political scientist Sharon Austin puts Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his running mate in the context of other Black women who aimed for the White House.

Here is a taste of her piece:

Kamala Harris is a registered Democrat who served as California’s attorney general and later one of the state’s U.S. senators. But, historically, most Black female presidential candidates have run as independents.

In 1968, 38-year-old Charlene Mitchell of Ohio became the first Black woman to run for president, as a communist. Like many other African Americans born in the 1930s, Mitchell joined the Communist Party because of its emphasis on racial and gender equality. Black female communists fought Jim Crow, lynchings and unfair labor practices for men and women of all races.

Mitchell’s presidential campaign, which focused on civil rights and poverty, was probably doomed from the start. In 1968, many states didn’t allow communists on the ballot. Media outlets from the Boston Globe to the Chicago Tribune also discussed Mitchell’s “unsuitability” as a candidate because she was both Black and female. Mitchell received just 1,075 votes.

Other independent Black female presidential candidates have been community organizer Margaret Wright, who ran on the People’s Party ticket in 1976; Isabell Masters, a teacher who created her own third party, called Looking Back and ran in 1984, 1992 and 2004; and teacher Monica Moorehead of the Workers World Party ticket, who ran in 1996, 2000 and 2016.

In 2008, the year Barack Obama was elected president, Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. representative from Georgia, was a nominee of the Green Party. And in 2012, Peta Lindsay ran to unseat President Obama from the left, on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket.

Only one Black woman has ever pursued the Republican nomination: Angel Joy Charvis, a religious conservative from Florida, who wanted to use her 1999 candidacy to “to recruit a new breed of Republican.”

These Black female presidential candidates were little known. But as the first Black female member of Congress, Shirley Chisholm had years of experience in public office and a national reputation when she became the first Black American and the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Chisholm’s campaign slogan: “Unbought and Unbossed.”

Read the entire piece here.

Will Mike Pence Leave the Ticket?

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Thomas Eagleton and George McGovern in 1972

No one knows what GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Mike Pence is thinking.  He will not be appearing today in Trump’s place at Paul Ryan’s GOP unity rally in Wisconsin.  The Hill is reporting that Pence was “beside himself” when he heard the tape of Trump degrading women on an “Access Hollywood” bus in 2005.

Pence is a devout evangelical Christian.  So far, I know of no evangelical Trump supporters who have changed their mind about the candidate.  (See my next post).  I will be surprised if Pence drops out of the race, but I will have more respect for him if he does.

But let’s talk history for a moment.  Has a VP candidate ever dropped out of the POTUS race this late in the campaign?  I don’t think so.  My friend Kelly Phipps just reminded me on Twitter that in 1972 George McGovern’s running mate Thomas Eagleton dropped out of the race in August (he was replaced by Sargent Shriver) after the press learned he had been treated with electric-shock therapy for mental illness and stress.

So if Pence drops out this late I think it would be unprecedented.

George McGovern, 1972, and the "City on a Hill"

Over the past few days I have been working my way through Jefferson Cowie’s riveting and deeply satisfying Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (The New Press, 2010).  I must confess that I am reading this book less out of a responsibility to “keep up with my field” and more for pleasure.  As a child of the 1970s and a product of the white ethnic working class, Cowie’s book is helping me to contextualize some of my memories.

Last night I read Cowie’s chapter on George McGovern and the 1972 presidential race.  Cowie’s primary focus is on McGovern’s inability to tap into the white, ethnic, masculine working class–many of whom supported George Wallace in the Democratic primaries.  His failure to win the support of organized labor and unite the working class, blacks, and anti-war liberals (a vision he inherited from Bobby Kennedy) led to a divided Democratic Party and a landslide victory for Richard Nixon.

But I was most taken by Cowie’s description of McGovern’s campaigning in the closing weeks of the campaign.  By Autumn 1972, McGovern realized that his chances of victory in November were slim and he began to return to his roots as the son of a South Dakota Methodist minister.  Newsweek called it “McGovern’s Politics of Righteousness” and compared the candidate to William Jennings Bryan.

In a campaign stop at evangelical Wheaton College, McGovern invoked “A Model of Christian Charity,” John Winthrop’s famous “City on a Hill” speech of 1620.  As Cowie writes:

For McGovern the invocation of a city on a hill came with an absolute convictions that America had veered from the path of spiritual righteousness.  The vote on Tuesday, he claimed on the eve of the election, will be “a day of reckoning and judgment.”  Eight years later, Reagan would later invoke the same sermon as an affirmation of national greatness.

After reading this short section of Cowie’s book, I am convinced that we need a good religious biography of McGovern.

Here is another taste of Cowie’s description of McGovern’s righteous campaigning:

Richard Nixon, he implied, was an agent of not just political death and darkness, but spiritual death as well, who had led the people away from the promise of America.  On the war, he railed against four more years of “barbarism,” reminding Americans of the “thousands of Asians” who were “burning bleeding, and dying under the bombs that fall from American planes.”  “What is it,” he queried the nation, “that keeps a great and decent country like the United States involved in this cruel killing and destruction?  Why is it that we cannot find the wit and the will to escape from this dreadful conflict that has tied us down for so long?” he asked.  McGovern found Nixon’s formula of sparing American casualties by engaging in the massive carpet-bombing campaigns morally reprehensible.  In an address titled “They Too, Are Created in the Image of God,” McGovern subverted the logic of nearly two hundred years of imperial conquest by boldly equating the value of an Asian life to an American life.

Who is up to the task?  David Swartz?  Brantley Gasaway?