The win amongst one of the most heated election cycles in modern history is certainly historic in many aspects. With Joe Biden receiving a record 74.4 million votes (50.5%) as of Sat November 7, 2020 (as reported by CNN) he has received more votes than any other president in American history, including the previous record set by President Obama in 2008. Kamala Harris will become the first women Vice-President as well as the first Vice-President woman of color. Just these two achievements alone make this political feat a true achievement.
No matter who you voted for, whether President Trump or President-elect Biden you cannot deny that the political strategy the Biden campaign employed to win this election was successful and unique. Let’s analyze that strategy through the lens of the Alchemical Transformation framework of Synaptic Alchemy.
The Alchemical Transformation framework contains three sections:
Nigredo — Destroy something. Take an old rule—and old mindset—and see how life would look if that rule didn’t exist any longer (eg. Amazon dissolving the rule that books have to be bought in a physical retail store).
Albedo—Create something. The void left by the old mindset will be replaced by a new mindset, a new rule. In the context of replacing the old way of doing things we’ll accomplish the same goal, but in a new way (eg. Amazon delivering any book you can imagine directly to your door).
Rubedo—Scale something. Now that you have a new rule, make it so incredibly simple and easy to use or understand that everyone can use it in their daily lives (eg. Amazon’s web site and Prime membership).
That three-stage framework: Destroy something, Create something, Scale something can be applied to the Biden-Harris political campaign.
Political Nigredo—Biden specifically stated in March 2020 that he would pick a woman to be his vice-presidential running mate. As reported in CNN, Joe Biden said “If I’m elected president, my Cabinet, my administration will look like the country, and I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a, pick a woman to be vice president.” This is the old rule. A role that is a norm, not in fact a rule by anything other than standard. A rule that says the United States has never elected a ticket with a woman vice president.
In fact there are two rules here. One rule on having a male vice president on the ticket, as well as having a caucasian male. There was significant risk in deciding that this norm was worth breaching. With a United States as significantly polarized as it is in 2020, would breaching such a norm expose the campaign to additional political pressure that would be too much to overcome in the election?
In hindsight the answer is obviously that it would not be too much. However, credit is due to the Biden campaign for taking the risk that was supported by the social climate to breach the norms of caucasian male vice presidents.
In fact all great strides in society, business, science, invention and art come from breaching a well established norm that has been around for a significant amount of time. Nigredo requires the breaching of long held norms.
Political Albedo—Now that the old rule of having to have a caucasian male vice presidential nominee is out of the way, the next question is “how do we fill that old rule void. Who should be chosen for the vice presidential ticket?”
That’s a more complicated question than it first seems. There is a limited universe of individuals who could qualify for the position. However, Biden had a long list from which to choose:
- Elizabeth Warren
- Kamala Harris
- Susan Rice
- Tammy Duckworth
- Val Demings
- Karen Bass
In thinking through his options president-elect Biden had to carefully examine not only each individual’s record and capacity to handle the position, but his campaign also had to viscerally understand how the electorate would receive his running mate.
Kamala Harris was not particularly easy on Joe Biden during the presidential debates. CNBC’s headline of “Kamala Harris attacks Joe Biden’s record … in vicious exchange at the Democratic debate” in June makes it clear that the public discussion was anything but cordial.
However, the Biden campaign made the intentional decision that the party aggression could be part of the past once the democratic ticket was established.
Harris’ record, the caliber of her thoughts, and the strength of her personality were clear in Biden’s choice. That was the new rule that became clear. A strong, well-versed, unapologetically intelligent woman like Harris could easily fill the vice-presidential role.
Political Rubedo—Now how do you scale a political choice? It’s an important question. The scaling of a political choice requires recognition and acceptance by the electorate.
Harris’ record as attorney general as well as her public exposure as senator created an easy way to scale Harris throughout the electorate. Her skill, record and personality were a two-edged sword in that a portion of the electorate appreciated her aggression and a portion had a significant aversion to her aggression.
This is the risk of Rubedo, of scale. When you scale an idea both its positives as well as its negative scale proportionately. A keen understanding and nuanced management to minimize the negatives while amplifying the positives are required to successfully scale.
This was a brilliant component of the Biden-Harris campaign. They effectively continued to expand Harris’ positive public awareness to a much greater extent than any of the potential negatives.
And that’s the win.
Nigredo: Identify an old rule that can be changed — Only caucasian male VP.
Albedo: Create a new rule to take its place—Woman of color will add gravitas to the ticket.
Rubedo: Scale the new rule so it is accessible to everyone—Select a candidate that has an extensive differential of positive to negative public associations.
That is Synaptic Alchemy in the political realm at its finest. And the way that all historic changes happen: alchemically.