Biden’s token of approval

During the Democratic primaries back in March, now presumptive nominee Joe Biden was the first candidate who promised to have a female running mate. While his straightforwardness may have ruffled a few feathers, it came as a surprise to no one.

 Critics  accuse him of practicing tokenism because he chose to state it so explicitly. As long as Biden’s choice clearly considers merit first, however, his gender criterion shouldn’t be a concern. Choosing a woman as his running mate is logical and would appeal to younger and progressive voters.

A word that has become increasingly relevant in today’s politics and culture, tokenism refers to carefully recruiting members of an underrepresented group in order to give the superficial appearance of diversity. A good example? The Republican Party’s ill-fated selection of Sarah Palin as 2008 presidential nominee John McCain’s running mate. 

Palin’s qualifications were questioned, given that she displayed a clear lack of basic knowledge about U.S. and world politics.. Furthermore, her most prominent political experience was as the former governor of Alaska, the fourth smallest state by population. She stood in stark contrast to the other vice presidential candidates, almost all of whom had more executive experience. It seemed to many that her only reason for being chosen was her gender.

Biden and the Democrat leadership would be wise to avoid a mishap similar to their GOP counterparts. And so far, it appears that they’ve learned. Names on the shortlist for Biden’s running mate include Amy Klobuchar, U.S. senator from Minnesota and former Hennepin County attorney; Susan Rice, national security adviser to the Obama administration and former ambassador to the U.N.; Elizabeth Warren, U.S. senator from Massachusetts and former Harvard law professor; and Kamala Harris, former California Attorney General and a current senator from California. All of these women bring with them a wealth of experience and voting appeal for key demographics, not to mention that Harris, Warren and Klobuchar were also running in the Democratic primaries. Biden’s selection of any of them would bat very few eyelashes. 

There’s no doubt that picking a qualified woman would make Biden appear more electable. After all, there are historical precedents of presidential candidates picking running mates who cover up their weak spots to appeal to a wider demographic. Known as ticket balancing, both parties have been known to do this and win: Donald Trump, a twice-divorced reality TV star, chose religiously conservative Mike Pence, while Barack Obama, a relative newcomer to the Democratic party, chose one of its oldest serving senators, Joe Biden. 

As the Democratic primaries went on, every woman and person of color dropped out until it was down to  Biden and Bernie Sanders, two straight white men well into their 70s. A qualified woman is a step in the right direction to appease younger, more progressive voters who supported Harris or Warren. It’s also important to note that Biden’s running mate will likely be the frontrunner Democratic presidential nominee for 2024. At age 77, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to run for a second term in office, assuming he wins. 

Furthermore, whether the move to run alongside a woman is a campaign strategy or not, it’s an indisputable fact that if he wins it will lead to increased diversity and progress in the highest levels of government. A wider appeal encourages more people to exercise their right to vote, a tenet of American democracy.

Should Biden and his team go with a meritless female candidate to win votes, the term “token woman” would be undeniably applicable. However, as long as Biden picks a highly qualified running mate with a resume that speaks for itself, his decision shouldn’t be labeled as tokenism, so much as a resoundingly wise choice.