Joe Biden – a fresh-faced Senator with outdated ideas – announced his candidacy in the 1988 presidential race from his home in Wilmington, Delaware. He was the youngest candidate amongst the Democratic field at just 44 years of age but was heavily criticised for being too right-wing for the Democrats, spending much of his time in the Senate across the aisle with Republican colleagues. Now, in 2020 – 32 years later – he is preparing to take to the stage in the same city he first announced his presidential ambitions, to speak at the oldest president-elect in American history.
Turning 78 years old in just two weeks’ time, Biden’s presidency is significant for America on many levels, not just because of his age, but for the many records and firsts that his election to America’s highest office represents.
Amongst the most notable is that in becoming president, his running mate, Kamala Harris, not only has become the first woman of colour on a presidential ticket but is the first woman and only the second person of colour to serve in one of America’s top two offices. Biden announced back in the final primary debate that he intended to play his part in breaking the glass ceiling by choosing a woman as his running mate and the important work of Hillary Clinton in her 2016 bid to become president has ensured that just four years later, this has been achieved. Biden’s presidency may play an important role in paving the way for America to – at least in part – solve its problem of gender equality in the Oval Office.
The problem of gender inequality is so great in America that nobody even knows what the spouse of the vice-president will be referred to – it never occurred to anyone that the vice president could be a woman. As is tradition, the spouse of the person who is ‘a heartbeat away from the presidency’ is known as the second lady, ready to step in and become the first lady should their husband assume the top job. Kamala Harris, in serving as vice president, is holding a mirror up to the tacit acceptance that the role of the vice president’s spouse is a woman’s role and smashing the glass ceiling that has long persisted in the United States.
When Harris was born, in 1964, women had only been able to vote for 44 years, and many African Americans were still unable to vote. The Voting Rights Act 1965, the year after her birth, was a major step towards achieving racial equality and her election to America’s second-highest office is another. 100 years after white women won the right to vote, America has finally elected a woman into the White House. Just 55 years after all African Americans were guaranteed the right to vote, the first person of colour has been elected to serve as vice president, and the first person of Indian descent has been elected to one of America’s top offices.
The election of Kamala Harris is the most historic moment of the 2020 election, but Joe Biden’s election is historic in its own right. Although not as significant, he becomes the oldest person to ever become the president of the United States and only the second Catholic to be elected.
Following in the footsteps of John F. Kennedy – who was the youngest president ever elected – Biden practises his religion regularly and attends mass before major moments in his life. He is expected to attend church in the coming days, perhaps before accepting the result from the stage in Wilmington.
Joe Biden will speak later tonight, with Kamala Harris expected to take to the stage before him. Usually, a president-elect would be the first to take to the stage, but the election of Kamala Harris is an historic moment for far more reasons and her speaking first is an acknowledgement of that.
In 2008, America was described as a post-racial society. The fact that an African American could be elected president was seen as proof of that, but there are no such illusions this time. Large crowds gathered in front of the White House after the race was called, along a stretch of road now known as ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ – testament to the fact that this year has shown more than any other that America is far from post-racial.
For the first time in history, there will be a woman of colour serving in America’s highest office; it would be a mistake to have the same disillusions as in 2008, but the victory of the Biden-Harris ticket is testament that many Americans are looking to get back on the right path after four years of being dragged backwards.