The message in Willie Brown's advice to Kamala
It's no secret that Kamala Harris got a leg up in California politics because she dated Willie Brown. It was a smart move on her part. Brown was the California assembly speaker and a very powerful one. It wasn't just patronage, though, that Brown provided. Love him or hate him, Brown is now and always has been one of the smartest people in American politics.
That's why it's interesting that, right before Kamala accepted Biden's offer to have her run as his vice president, Brown emphatically told her not to seek that position. In giving that advice, Brown made the obvious point that the vice president's role is often, although not always, a dead end:
Being picked for the vice presidency is obviously a huge honor, and if Biden wins, Harris would make history by being the first woman to hold the job.
But the glory would be short-lived, and historically, the vice presidency has often ended up being a dead end. For every George H.W. Bush, who ascended from the job to the presidency, there's an Al Gore, who never got there.
In other words, as Vice President John Nance Garner III, was famously reputed to have said, the job's "not worth a bucket of spit." (What he actually said, claim historians, is that it wasn't "worth a bucket of warm piss.")
Instead, Brown told Kamala to hold out for the position of attorney general because it offered a better springboard for her future presidential ambitions:
On the other hand, the attorney general has legitimate power. From atop the Justice Department, the boss can make a real mark on everything from police reform to racial justice to prosecuting corporate misdeeds.
And the attorney general gets to name every U.S. attorney in the country. That's power.
Plus, given the department's current disarray under William Barr, just showing up and being halfway sane will make the new AG a hero.
Best of all, being attorney general would give Harris enough distance from the White House to still be a viable candidate for the top slot in 2024 or 2028, no matter what the state of the nation.
That's all puff and no stuff. As best as I can tell, no United States attorney general has ever gone on to become president of the United States. That distinguishes the A.G.'s job from the vice presidency because former vice presidents have a shot at the presidency. Fourteen veeps (or 30%) managed to snag the Oval Office. In Kamala's case, given Biden's mental and physical fragility, her odds are a lot higher than 30%
If the bit about the attorney general being a pathway to the presidency is nonsense, why is Willie Brown, one of the smartest people in politics, warning Kamala away from the vice presidency?
If I were to bet, I'd say Willie Brown is doing so because he knows that Franklin Roosevelt was the only vice presidential candidate on a ticket that failed to have later gone on to win the White House. Roosevelt was the Democrat candidate for vice president in 1920 when Warren G. Harding ran on a "return to normalcy." Roosevelt eventually won the presidency in 1932. Other than FDR, being a losing vice presidential candidate is political death.
Assuming I'm correct about this bit of historic trivia, what Willie Brown is actually telling his protégée is that her political career is over if she joins the Biden ticket because Biden won't win. But since Brown can't say Biden is going to lose, he instead tactfully told Kamala to hold out for a different job that kicks in only if Biden wins. Then, at least, she has a chance at a powerful position. But if Biden loses, the career that Brown helped nurture for so long is over.
Whether or not one likes Willie Brown's politics, there's no doubt that he's got excellent political instincts. He's also connected. It's hard to imagine that Willie Brown doesn't have sources everywhere in the Democrat party. And I think Willie Brown is fairly certain that Biden will lose and that Trump will be re-elected.