For a news cycle dominated by a global pandemic and a media-obsessed president, Stacey Abrams is getting a wild amount of attention. The New York Times ran a feature about her over the weekend. The Washington Post ran two. Abrams has been everywhere from Elle magazine to NBC’s “Meet the Press.” On Thursday night, she fielded questions alongside Joe Biden on MSNBC, at Biden’s request, in a quasi tryout to be the presumptive Democratic nominee’s running mate.
Who in the world is pushing the idea that Abrams, a former state legislator with no statewide much less federal level experience, could be a vice presidential contender? Well, Stacey Abrams is, of course.
It’s that last part, Abrams promoting herself in what’s usually a behind-the-scenes job search, that seems to be rubbing many in the Democratic establishment and the national media the wrong way. Reporters even seem to be running out of polite ways to describe Abrams’ slightly impolite push to get to the front of the line. It’s “public,” “direct,” “unconventional,” “brazen” and — the death knell for a female political candidate — “aggressive.”
It’s true that Abrams has been honest about her ambition to be in the White House. But really, what choice does any woman have but to make the case for herself, especially if that woman was, like Abrams, born outside the natural network of wealthy friends and influential relatives who could be doing her bidding for her?
No choice but to be her own agent
Some men picked to be vice president, such as Al Gore and George H.W. Bush, had senator fathers with powerful associates, pushing them along their roads to success the whole of their careers. Nebraska-born Dick Cheney didn’t have that kind of network, but he literally picked himself for the job of vice president after the presumptive Republican nominee, George W. Bush, asked him to run his vetting process.
Even without dynastic networks, other vice presidential picks like John Edwards had the strength of looking like or seeming like good candidates. But so much of that includes our own bias of what a vice president looks like, talks like and acts like. Would we cast Abrams as the vice president in a Netflix series? Not without a really good agent. In this case, she’s doing the job herself.
As a woman who grew up in the South, I can tell you that the stories little girls saw about female success in those days almost always included being saved, supported or discovered by a man. Wealthy women had rich husbands or fathers. The most powerful women in politics were the first ladies. Even Cinderella had to get rescued by the prince before she could move out of her father’s basement.
But a black girl who grew up in Mississippi and going to the best schools, putting herself in the middle of power and methodically going about acquiring it? No fairy tale ever started that way. Until now.
After college at Spelman and law school at Yale, Abrams worked in Atlanta city government. She was 32 when she won a Georgia House race in 2006. In four years, she was the House minority leader.
As her star rose, Abrams also started an activist nonprofit and fundraising organization called the New Georgia Project, which worked to turn out new voters in the state, especially minorities.The activism built her network, helped her party and gave her statewide relevance far beyond any other legislator in Georgia.
Change the game: Reopen the Joe Biden campaign. Ramp up social media and name a vice president now.
She ran for governor in 2018, which looked to most like a fool’s errand (“too soon”), but came within a point-and-a-half of knocking the Republican establishment out of power. Within weeks, Abrams also founded a trio of organizations, anchored by Fair Fight, to combat voter suppression around the country like that she accused her opponent, Brian Kemp, of perpetrating in 2018. Fair Fight’s PAC has raised an astonishing $22 million in less than two years, which, in turn, has doled out millions to state Democratic parties across the country.
A breakthrough in female ambition
It has taken many outside of Georgia by surprise that Abrams, 46, has put herself forward as a vice presidential nominee since then. But her real obstacle is not her public campaign for herself. It’s her lack of relevant governing experience in a year when the 77-year-old Biden must choose a running mate who can literally do the job if he cannot.
Ex-Republican on Trump: His coronavirus failures mean our lives depend on electing Joe Biden
The Georgia legislature where Abrams cut her teeth meets just 40 days a year. When she held the minority leader position, Democrats only had the power to lend their approval when they agreed with what Republicans were already doing, or to raise their voices when they objected, which Abrams did to brilliant effect. In her MSNBC appearance, Abrams delivered plenty of the substance Democratic voters might be looking for (if not the pizzazz). Is that enough to reassure Biden she can run the White House at a moment’s notice? Probably not.
So be offended by Abrams’ ambition all you want. But as Cher said to Nicolas Cage in “Moonstruck” after she slapped him across the face, snap out of it.
Stacey Abrams likely won’t be the next vice president, nor should she be. But she has changed the face of female ambition forever. You — and your daughters — can thank her for that when you’re ready.
Patricia Murphy is a political columnist and correspondent based in Atlanta. Follow her on Twitter: @1PatriciaMurphy
You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Stacey Abrams obstacle to Biden VP is inexperience, not self-promotion