We are four months away from what is shaping up to be a very strange presidential election - the strangest in many of our lifetimes.
Americans will vote in an atmosphere of deep and bitter division. We are at each other's throats in a way we have not been since the 1960s. In some ways it may be worse than the 1960s.
We will also hold this election in the context of a pandemic and parallel to a new social movement both idealistic and nihilistic; both positive and destructive.
Finally, our choice is between two elderly men with, in very different ways and for very different reasons, little apparent understanding of the task before them - the importance of the presidency at this moment in the nation's life. Neither seems to have a vision of unification and neither has a positive program for jobs, trade, infrastructure, energy, conservation, debt or expanding personal opportunity.
Donald Trump seems to have less than total control of his emotions, and Joe Biden seems to have less than total control of his faculties.
The best thing the president could do is dial down his rhetoric and run on his record, the record of a traditional Republican with some tweaks and additions - like on trade and prison reform.
That probably will not happen and, if it did, the now deranged national media would not give him credit for it anyway.
The best thing that Biden could do is to reassure the people about his evident mental and physical fragility.
A majority of citizens in the country like and respect Joe Biden. He could be a healer. But we would all be fools to ignore the truth that recent years have been hard on him (no shame in that) and that the calendar exerts its own undeniable force.
If elected, Biden will be 82 when his term ends - older than Ike (71), Reagan (77), de Gaulle (79) or Churchill (81) when they left power. Konrad Adenauer, in postwar Germany, was 87 when he departed office.
What Biden ought to do, for his own political fortunes, as well as the country, is amend his vice presidential promise - that he will choose a woman as his running mate.
He ought to say:
I will pick the best person I can find; the most qualified; someone who can step into the presidential office if need be with no learning curve.
If, in the end, it is a woman, that's grand.
If not, well, I have to do what's best for the nation.
This would reassure the country.
For there is a high chance that, if Biden is elected, his vice president will become the president.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of quoting President John F. Kennedy on the needs of democracy. He said that democracy needs patience, public virtue, discipline and determination - many moral traits. But it also needs knowledge.
The president must understand how our system works, how the federal bureaucracy functions and how foreign policy is conducted. He or she needs to fully understand recent problems and challenges on all these fronts.
Biden does. It is important that his running mate does, too.
Biden should do what Barack Obama did: Pick someone with knowledge.
He should not do what John McCain did: Pick a walking gimmick.
One cannot help but notice that some of the names now on Biden's short list are people who have been in the Congress, or even public office, only a few years.
The best person on his list is Karen Bass - a five-term congresswoman from California deeply involved in prison reform and knowledgeable about foreign policy who is also a former speaker of the California State Assembly. She possesses the two qualities Biden needs - calm and experience.
Still, he should broaden the search.
- Consider someone like Janet Napolitano, who has been a governor, a Cabinet member and run the largest university system in the nation.
- A Senate veteran like Patty Murray would hit the ground running.
- One may be permitted to dream of a national unity ticket with Condoleezza Rice as the running mate.
- Both senators from New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, are also former governors.
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is as exciting as watching paint dry, but she has long experience in local and state government and both houses of the Congress. And, oh yeah, she would break a barrier.
But that's not what is most important right now.
Biden has his base. And he doesn't need a stunt to wake up his campaign, like McCain did. There is no need to box himself in.
He does need to reassure us.
The rules for veep selection are simple: First, do no political harm. Second, pick someone qualified.
Why not at least consider someone whose competence and civic spirit is so well established that he brings prestige to the veep-ship - someone like Robert Gates or James Mattis?
Go with knowledge, Joe. This year more than ever. For you, for us.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Keith C. Burris is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and vice president and editorial director of Block Newspapers (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com
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