Joe Biden's selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate was both historic and conventional - historic as she becomes the first Black woman and first Asian American to join a major party ticket, but conventional because, in the end, she appeared to be the safest of the finalists on his shortlist.
Politics and history conspired to lead Biden to Harris. He had pledged in the spring to pick a female running mate, an acknowledgment of the increasing importance of female voters to the Democrats' success in 2018 and hopes in 2020. But in a summer of racial reckoning, following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Biden came under increasing pressure not just to pick a woman, but to pick a Black woman.
The choice was revealing of Biden for another reason. Though Harris was a conventional pick, she may not have been a truly easy pick. Her attack on Biden during the first Democratic debate over his past stand on forced racial busing left him bruised and many of his supporters angry. Despite those feelings, Harris fit better perhaps than any of the other finalists, given the first rule of vice-presidential selections, which is to do no harm.
As one Democrat put it, by picking Harris, Biden demonstrated that he will do what he thinks he must do to win the election. That Biden was able to put aside that debate moment and look to the larger goal of winning in November says something about both his character and his ambition to be president, a quest that began with his first run for president, in 1988.
That takes nothing away from Harris - or for that matter from many of the others who were under serious consideration. Harris has the advantage of being a national figure and, not incidentally, someone who went through a presidential campaign and, though she fell well short, experienced the political combat that goes with running for the highest office in the land. More important, she is likely to be seen as someone who meets Biden's first criterion, which is a vice president who is prepared to be president.