Vice presidential debates of the past have been somewhat of an afterthought. This election, it is the main event in no small part because Senator Kamala Harris will take the stage.
At last week’s presidential debate, Donald Trump did what he does best—undermine the norms and practices of American electoral democracy. It did not even resemble a constructive debate. Wednesday night, therefore, will be Americans’ first and last chance to hear about the biggest issues facing our country. It is also an opportunity for Americans to focus squarely on the leadership of a woman of color, Harris, who can guide our country out of this mess. Harris will channel generations of women of color who have shaped U.S. democracy. And we’re ready for it—though Vice President Mike Pence will likely not be.
We have seen Pence on the debate stage before. We saw him in 2016 attempt to bob and weave when his opponent raised issues about Trump’s record, on everything from his refusal to release his tax returns to his business ties to Russia. Unlike his running mate, Pence does not come across as a temperamental child. But make no mistake: His ability to appear calm does not overshadow his failure and complicity in this administration, and we can expect Harris to call him out in full force.
Most viewers of the first debate were left feeling that the debates were inconsequential, unpleasant and unnecessary, but Wednesday night will be an entirely different event. If the lesson learned from the first debate is that Trump is divisive, racist and unhinged, the lesson we are likely to learn from the vice presidential matchup is that focusing on the issues important to people of color and holding the current administration accountable for its failures will rally the Democratic base. With Harris’ direct style, honed on the Senate Judiciary Committee, she has proved that she is clear, concise and speaks to the voters who must turn out in the next 27 days—namely women of color, the fastest-growing voting bloc in the country.
The focus of Wednesday’s debate is the coronavirus, but what communities of color experience is that the pandemic is also a crisis about health care and unemployment and pathological police brutality and access to the vote. This is where she will shine—she brings a deep understanding of how our communities are hurting, as well as the prosecutorial chops to ensure that those responsible for the pain are held accountable.
It’s why she does what she does. We know that Harris’ desire to become a prosecutor emerged in high school when she discovered her best friend was being molested. “One of the reasons I wanted to be a prosecutor was to protect people like her,” Harris said. “And, in fact, the vast majority of my career as a prosecutor was about protecting women and children, including a significant period of time where I specialized in child sexual assault cases.”
This is the type of purpose-driven leadership we need to heal and unify our communities and our country. This isn’t a persuasion moment. The point is for her to speak to the base about the issues she and Joe Biden will carry forth, something Biden was not able to do in the first debate because of the president’s chaotic performance. That was clearly a strategy of distraction. Harris will not be distracted—and neither should we.
We can expect sexist and racist attacks, whether blatant or veiled, that aim to dismiss her leadership, accomplishments and value. They will focus on her looks; they will make her out to be angry. These likely attacks are a reflection of an administration that is indifferent or hostile to the core catastrophes of our time. We’re ready. We recognize that she will be speaking to and representing millions of voters who will put the Biden-Harris ticket over the top.
Let’s remember: Harris comes on stage about a week after the president refused to condemn white supremacy—and days after Trump and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19. We are in one of the most abnormal election years in history, facing widespread voter suppression in marginalized communities of battleground states. And more than 210,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19 under the catastrophic leadership of the White House task force. That task force is led by Pence.
This country is in desperate need of answers. We need a truth-teller, someone who represents democracy, humanity and values. Someone who has the moral will to speak out against injustice. We will not get that from Pence, who has been an enabler of this president and has never spoken out against his misdeeds, lies and continued efforts to incite violence and cast doubt on our democratic process. We can count on Harris to hold him accountable.
She’s ready to govern, as are women of color across the country—and you can expect her to leave it all on that stage.
Aimee Allison is founder and president of She the People, a national network of women of color in politics.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
Start your unlimited Newsweek trial