After an uninspiring beginning to her tenure as Vice President, Donald Forbes argues that talk of her ascension to the Oval Office if anything were to befall Joe Biden is now even more worrying.  

Veteran Chicago columnist John Kass hoped recently that President Biden hangs on until 2024 when his mandate ends. This is not because he is a fan of Joe but he worries about his health.

Kass was expressing the fear that Vice President Kamala Harris would inherit the Oval Office by default should anything untoward befall Biden before his time is up. There were doubts about her when she was nominated. Five politically clunky months as Vice President have demonstrated she is not up to the job. In that time, she has probably talked her way out of contention for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024.

That would change, however, if she arrives at the convention as the sitting president which is far from impossible. Blood would flow at the Democratic convention before feminists, progressives and minority rights activists allowed a woman of Indian and Jamaican descent to be robbed of the chance to fight in her own right for the office she had assumed. That Kamala is a dud is irrelevant.

Before last year's campaign for the Democratic nomination, then-Senator Harris was unknown outside California where she was the product of machine politics.  Her only achievement during the debates was to unleash an unexpected bazooka at Biden over his support for racial school busing 50 years ago. Joe was speechless for the first time in his life.

Despite ecstatic media reviews – Biden was looking down and almost out at the time – it was a flash in the pan. Lacking follow-through and donor money, Harris swiftly dropped out of the race only to be picked by, or imposed on, Biden as his running mate. She ticked the essential boxes as a mixed-race woman and the strongest female alternative was fellow senator Elizabeth Warren who is far smarter but ferocious enough to give moderate Democrats the shivers.

Kamala is safely on the left and gives no hint of any troublesome independent political philosophy. Her game is pure ambition. The media, which ignored Joe's cognitive weakness, talked of a joint Biden-Harris presidency and, sometimes less charitably, of a Harris-Biden presidency.

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Most vice presidents – with the recent exception of Dick Cheney – are window dressing whose purpose is not to embarrass the boss. This has not worked out with Harris whose high high profile has exposed her as a casting error. She is the product of politics but is not a politician. Harris prospered under sheltered one-party patronage in California, where she was state attorney general, but lacks natural plausibility for a broader audience.

Having been borne to the summit of the White House by a coalition of vested interests that will defend her as a symbol of their political goals, it is of concern that she could suddenly find herself president, as equally out of her depth as Biden but lacking the half century of political muscle memory he can fall back on.

Given Biden's frailty, it been logical to try to groom Kamala more carefully for the top job than her predecessors but this necessity has found her out. Biden gave her the thankless of job of managing the immigration crisis at the southern border, a political Achilles heel for Democrats with many ordinary Americans. This month she was sent to Mexico and Guatemala on her first foreign trip to gain support from Latin American leaders in stemming a wave of illegal immigration not seen since the early 2000s. She returned empty-handed.

Even before she reached Guatemala, President Alejandro Giammattei blamed Biden's reversal of Trump's immigration policy for the surge. "The message changed to: 'We are going to reunite families and we are going to reunite children,'" he said in a television interview. "The very next day the coyotes here were organising groups of children to take them to the United States."

So far Harris has not even visited the border to see conditions at first hand which would be a minimal gesture from the person in charge.

There may be something of deeper significance than the irrelevance of Harris and Biden going on here. That is a trend towards figurehead American presidents and the transfer of executive power to unaccountable officials who may not to be known to the public. The description would apply to three of the four 21st century presidents with Harris waiting in the wings to join them. George W Bush was seen as subordinate to Cheney, the real architect of the war in Iraq. Donald Trump, for all his loudness and media omnipresence, was a front man for those who really ran his presidency. Biden is a non-entity.

Compare them to 20th century presidents including Jimmy Carter who really did run their administrations and view the possibility of a Harris presidency in that context. Weak and diffused US leadership is bad for everyone.

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