Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Columnist Thomas Friedman suggests Biden assign Harris as vice president to tackle long list of rural disparities

Vice presidents are often viewed as ornamental, but New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman suggests Kamala Harris use her platform to address a serious problem in America.

"Harris is too smart and energetic to be just the vice president, a position with few official responsibilities," Friedman writes for The New York Times. "I’d love to see President-elect Joe Biden give her a more important job: his de facto secretary of rural development, in charge of closing the opportunity gap, the connectivity gap, the learning gap, the start-up gap — and the anger and alienation gap — between rural America and the rest of the country."

There's a political angle for Democrats. Friedman notes that rural America has become increasingly Republican in recent years, and Donald Trump exploited rural resentment to win votes. But charging Harris with addressing rural concerns "would provide a vision for American renewal and signal that Democrats were no longer going to cede rural America to Republicans but were instead going to seize it from them. And it would make Harris a super-relevant vice president from Day 1," Friedman writes.

Biden must address rural inequalities such as broadband, agriculture, health-care access. One suggestion that would kick-start broadband build-out: "a new federal loan program that would offer 50-year, no-interest loans to communities and co-ops (and ease regulations) so rural public-private coalitions can build broadband networks with a minimum 100 megabits per second of speed for downloading and uploading all kinds of remote learning tools, work tools and telehealth tools," Friedman writes.

Whatever Biden's plans to help rural America, he and his appointees must start simply by showing up regularly to listen to rural residents' concerns, Friedman writes: "Nothing earns more respect than listening to people respectfully."

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