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The guessing game

By KATHLEEN PARKER

The mystery of Joe Biden’s running mate takes me back to 2008, when the political world breathlessly awaited John McCain’s surprise pick.

Back then, the whispered word was that Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman was McCain’s top choice. But the powers that used-to-be wanted a relatively unknown dynamo from Alaska — then-Gov. Sarah Palin. After a chat with McCain in Sedona, Arizona, where all manner of magic is said to occur, the roguish, pro-life mom of five, got a wink and the nod — and changed the course of our political landscape.

With three clicks of her red, shiny shoes, the wonder from Wasilla helped usher the Grand Old Party into a regressive era of ignorance, intransigence and an ideological muddle of racism, sexism and nationalistic xenophobia that ultimately produced a Confederate-flag defending, authoritarian-worshipping, Queens-bred reality-TV star named Donald Trump.

Now, Biden, struggling to make an impression in an election season distorted by the awful gravity of COVID-19, has turned to the VP-mystery game. At least daily, I receive an email from the campaign inviting me to participate in the guessing game — or to become one of the first-to-know Her Name. This reality-show drama, of course, encourages speculation among the media and feeds the rumor that Americans like this sort of thing.

Do we? Just pick her, already. It’s July! McCain waited until just minutes before the Republican Convention in late August that year. And, it must be said, Palin delivered with a remarkable speech crafted by the masterful Matthew Scully.

Biden has promised to pick a woman, and pressure is mounting for him to pick an African American woman. This is in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but also because of his obvious debt to the black women voters of South Carolina, who, upon the endorsement of the state’s elder statesman, Rep. James Clyburn, are credited with handing him the Democratic nomination.

Biden suffers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing a running mate. Most of the African American women reported to be in contention have been prominent long enough for their names to be familiar nationally. Many already hold public offices or came very close, as in the case of Stacey Abrams, almost-governor of Georgia, who insists she would have won if not for voter suppression.

The commentariat, of course, has a gift for finding flaws in any potential candidate. In the case of previous Biden foe Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), it’s a too-tough resume, while she was California attorney general, on issues important to black voters. Similarly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) missed the opportunity while she was chief prosecutor in Minneapolis to tackle issues of police abuse that might have prevented George Floyd’s death; she has withdrawn her name from the list. Florida Rep. Val Demings, an African American and former Orlando police chief, is relatively inexperienced. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren may suffer the unfortunate capacity to remind Biden of his inferior grasp of complicated issues.

But two other names, one of them as-yet-unmentioned, stand out — former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and, wait for it, former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. Both women are whip smart, highly trained and experienced in world affairs. Both know Biden well and are highly qualified to assist him on both international and domestic fronts.

Neither has experience running for high office, but there are more important things. Should the worst come to pass, either woman could skip orientation and start fully equipped to lead. Indeed, Jarrett, a lawyer, businesswoman and Stanford graduate, was basically a shadow president for eight years next to Obama.

Though Rice also served as Obama’s national security adviser, she’s unfairly freighted with political baggage that Jarrett, working behind the scenes, has escaped. Recall 2012 when Rice, stepping in for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reported on five Sunday news shows that attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi were a “spontaneous” reaction to a viral, anti-Muslim video. When subsequent investigations proved otherwise, Rice was unfairly accused of “lying.” I defended Rice at the time and stand by that column.

Jarrett, meantime, was “in the room,” as she has put it, on nearly every crucial issue during the Obama administration. Having spent time with her socially and in the White House, I can attest to her graciousness, intelligence and absolute discretion. She’s no one’s fool and holds her cards close. While serving the president, she also pursued her own projects, speaking often on the country’s toxic politics, the need for compromise and issues of the day.

During a recent Axios interview, asked to comment on Biden’s vice-presidential choices, Jarrett said, “I trust him completely to pick the right person.”

Here’s looking at you, Valerie.

Kathleen Parker’s email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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