The old model of the vice-president as “standby equipment” went with the colourless Dan Quayle under George H.W. Bush. Mike Pence did try to revive it in his reliable obsequiousness to Trump, making Pence as creative as a lawn ornament in the Rose Garden. But the job had irrevocably changed.
Credit Dick Cheney. He made himself a rival centre of power to President George W. Bush, deeply involved in the levers of government. As vice-president, for his part, Biden asked to be “the first and last person in the room” when Obama made a big decision. He was.
By virtue of her race, her sex, her age, her story and the culture of expectation, Harris is the most powerful vice-president in history. But what’s most important is that Biden is 78. He is unlikely to seek a second term – if he survives his first.
Biden knows this. He has called himself a transitional president. Practically and prudently, he is tutoring Harris in the art of governing, giving her real responsibility and offering her room to grow.
Back to Canada. As Biden visited Ottawa as vice-president in December 2016, Harris will eventually visit too. Indeed, Chrystia Freeland, the deputy prime minister, has publicly invited her to a meeting, as if she is Harris’s counterpart.
Freeland isn’t. When Harris visits, expect the prime minister to be her gracious host. He will treat her as a head of state, understanding this political reality: Sooner than later, Kamala Harris will be president of the United States.
Andrew Cohen is a journalist, Carleton University professor and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.
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