History’s Lessons For Joe BidenBreaking News
tags: presidential history, Harry Truman, Joe Biden, vice presidents, Kamala Harris
note: prior to this reposting, the Biden campaign announced that California Senator Kamala Harris would be Joe Biden's running mate.
As presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wrestles with his choice of a running mate, the decision’s true importance probably lies less in how it might affect the course of the election than in how it might affect the course of history.
By happenstance, the calendar itself reminds us why this is the case: Biden’s decision-making has coincided with the 75th anniversaries of critical moments in the 20th century: the atomic bombings of Japan in early August 1945, followed by Japan’s surrender on Aug. 15.
These events might not have occurred when they did, and might have influenced postwar international politics very differently, if the Democratic Party had not replaced Vice President Henry Wallace with Harry S. Truman, a senator from Missouri, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s running mate in 1944.
This was the most fateful vice-presidential pick in American history. Only the Republicans’ 1864 decision to replace Abraham Lincoln’s strongly anti-slavery vice president, Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, with the thoroughly racist Andrew Johnson, then military governor of Tennessee, comes close.
Also, in a crucial sense, the Democrats’ 1944 choice is the one that most closely resembles the decision that Biden and his party face today. By the time of his nomination for an unprecedented fourth term, Roosevelt, though only 62 years old, was in poor and declining health — and although the public didn’t know much about his problems, his party’s insiders did.