In 1902, English author W.W. Jacobs wrote a short story that would spawn countless others: “The Monkey’s Paw.” It is a classic three-wishes fable that warns of trying to craft fate to one’s own ends. Ultimately, it is a cautionary tale of how doomed attempts to coerce fortune to your favor result in disaster. And it provides a hard lesson for Democrat hopefuls who thought they had won the political lottery.
A Democrat Dilemma
One of the earliest big-name figures to pull out of the Democrat presidential primary in December 2019, Kamala Harris was nevertheless granted her wish of being on the top ticket. Joe Biden insisted that he was merely a “transition candidate,” and all Harris had to do was sit back and wait for 2024. Or so she thought.
It is well understood that vice presidents are human shields for the president. They explain policy and take the hits. The former senator and Golden State attorney general was lauded by the Fourth Estate as the heir to the throne, positioned to ascend when the 46th president eventually ceded the crown. Such a coronation now, however, looks far from certain.
Betting markets suggest that if she were to run, Harris would rate as a 16/1 longshot, and with her approval rating 11 points underwater, she lacks significant national support. Even in her home state of California, a recent Berkeley Institute of Government Studies/Los Angeles Times poll reveals that only 16% of voters are enthusiastic about the prospect of a President Harris. A clear plurality, 41%, said they were “not enthusiastic at all.” The New York Times reported, “Most Democrats interviewed … said flatly that they did not think Ms. Harris could win the presidency in 2024. Some said the party’s biggest challenge would be finding a way to sideline her without inflaming key Democratic constituencies that would take offense.”
The Kamala Conundrum
Harris has had a number of issues to contend with above and beyond that of a normal vice president. She has alienated her staff to such a degree that working with her has become a career suicide note rather than a resumé booster. Harris’ failure to follow well-prepared scripts or “do the homework,” coupled with what are often described as condescending ramblings, means that each time she takes to the podium, confidence in her abilities sinks.
As Border Czar, Harris promised to get to the “root cause” of illegal immigration. And yet, more than two years later, illegal crossings are at a record high, and she has studiously avoided visiting the actual border. To many Americans, she appears to have abdicated her responsibilities. While President Biden arguably has a track record of successes he can promote, VP Harris can only claim marginal coattail victories, if that.
She took the number two slot on the understanding that she would be elevated both within the Democratic Party and in the eyes of the public. Neither dream has come to fruition.
But What About Mayor Pete?
Another 2020 presidential contender who “took the knee” and backed Joe Biden is former South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Suspending his campaign before Super Tuesday, the current transport secretary warned his supporters about getting behind Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and his “inflexible, ideological revolution,” hinting that the socialist firebrand could end up with a “seemingly insurmountable delegate lead.”
As an openly gay man, Buttigieg’s campaign and eventual appointment were hailed by the activist media as “historic” and “ground-breaking.” For supporting Biden, he was awarded a key cabinet position from which to build his national brand, but like Harris, he has stumbled from crisis to crisis, whittling away whatever goodwill the public had for him.
As a media darling, Mayor Pete was granted a cloak of invisibility where his duties were concerned. In October 2021, a growing supply chain disaster dominated headlines and watercoolers across the nation, and yet almost every major news outlet referenced only Buttigieg’s forays into fatherhood. More recently, he has faced criticism for failing to visit the site of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Senator Marco Rubio called for his resignation, arguing, “For two years, Secretary Buttigieg downplayed and ignored crisis after crisis while prioritizing topics of little relevance to our nation’s transportation system … It is painfully clear to the American people that Secretary Buttigieg has little regard for the duties of the Secretary of Transportation.” To political observers, it seems Mayor Pete has been more focused on building his political hopes than the nation’s infrastructure.
Even more concerning for his public image is the estimated 23 private jet flights the secretary has taken on the taxpayer dime. Information releases about such flights appear to be facing blockages from within the department. Despite FOIA requests, watchdog groups say that no details are forthcoming.
Michael Chamberlain of Protect the Public’s Trust said:
“Contrary to what some agencies appear to believe, saving powerful officials from disclosure or embarrassment is not a legitimate reason to keep the public in the dark.
“Considering the potential abuse of taxpayer funds at issue, a necessary first step toward restoring the public’s trust in its government is for the Department of Transportation to come clean as to exactly how many taxpayer dollars were used to fly Secretary Buttigieg around on non-commercial flights.”
Take the Job, Take the Blame
Both Harris and Buttigieg assumed these positions of power on the understanding that they were stepping stones to greater things. Time and circumstance have proven the duo uniquely unsuited to either the vice presidency or the Department of Transportation’s top spot. By focusing on career advancement and building positive media relations, both hopefuls have exposed weaknesses that may not have come to light if they had put their respective noses to the grindstones. The political pair got their first wish of a privileged position, their second of a high-resolution media platform. Perhaps, as in the tale of the dreaded monkey’s paw, their third wish should be for a clean slate to start all over again.
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