Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris gave an exclusive interview to a local television news station in West Virginia.
In the interview, Harris was asked about the state’s coal industry. She reassured West Virginia coal miners that even if their jobs disappear under the Biden administration — and the implication was clear that they would disappear — mine workers could transfer their skills to new industries. She then listed several exciting new careers coal miners could consider. The first of these was, and I quote: “reclaiming abandoned land mines.”
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Are there really that many abandoned land mines lying around in West Virginia? Enough to make a whole job industry out of minesweeping?” And: “Is it safe to go hiking there?”
Friends, I asked this too. As a West Virginia resident myself, the question is urgent. Admittedly, I have never once encountered a land mine in two decades of living here, but I may have just been lucky (there was that one time the neighbor’s cat left something in our driveway, and my family all stepped in it on the way to church, but I don’t think that counts).
True, various munitions have indeed played a role in West Virginia history. Besides being birthed in the Civil War, the state has seen several mining-related conflicts, the most spectacular of which involved the Logan County sheriff hiring planes to air-bomb striking miners in 1921 (yes, really). At least one unexploded bomb was recovered and used as evidence in the miners’ subsequent trial.
Despite this explosive history, however, there’s no evidence that West Virginia is currently teeming — or has ever teemed — with minefields. There certainly aren’t enough land mines around here to create even one minesweeping job. Frankly, I doubt there are enough to make minesweeping into a decent hobby.
But let’s return to Vice President Harris. According to Politico, she meant to say “abandoned mine lands,” not “abandoned land mines.” Well, okay. We all make mistakes. It’s just that someone familiar with mining terminology, or military terminology — and, you know, a lot of West Virginians are familiar with both — would probably not make that particular mistake.
This matters because of the reason Vice President Harris was on television in West Virginia to begin with.
The purpose of Harris’s interview was to tout the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan.” Indeed, she scheduled interviews with more than one media outlet in West Virginia that day: here she is speaking with the state’s largest daily newspaper on the same topic. Harris also made similar media appearances in Arizona.
Now, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in political science to deduce why the White House targeted West Virginia and Arizona. With the Senate evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the two most moderate Democrats in the upper chamber — Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema — hail from those states. Harris’s media blitz was an unsubtle attempt to generate popular demand for the multi-trillion-dollar stimulus bill, pressuring Manchin and Sinema to stop agitating for bipartisan compromise and fall in line with the party.
For his part, Sen. Manchin was not amused. “I saw [the interview]. I couldn’t believe it,” he told the local news station, saying the White House never notified him about Harris’s publicity campaign. “We’re going to try to find a bipartisan pathway forward, but we need to work together. That’s not a way of working together.”
While it’s understandable that Manchin would be irate about being undercut by his party in his home state, he needn’t be worried. The White House looked at a state that voted for Trump 68 percent to Biden’s 29 percent — a socially conservative, rural, working-class state — and thought a five-minute interview with a Californian would suddenly dazzle them into opposing their native son. It was the most “what were you thinking” public-relations move since that ad where the guy gets his wife a Peloton for Christmas.
The results were predictable. The vice president added a new chapter to the annals of tone-deafness, updating “let them eat cake” to “let them sweep for land mines.”
Sure, it was just a gaffe (and a funny one too), but the message to West Virginians came through: D.C. elites aren’t even trying to understand you.