The Student
Opinion
Kamala Harris’s selection reveals the rot inside the Democratic Party
by Kiril Atanasov, 20/08/20

Joe Biden’s announcement last Wednesday that Senator Kamala Harris would be his running mate hardly surprised anyone, yet it was utterly devastating to the progressive wing of the party. Once again, the Democratic establishment showed that it did not care about its own base, despite the inspiring victories of Cori Bush in Missouri, and Marquita Bradshaw in Tennessee in the last few weeks. Instead of going for someone like Barbara Lee or Nina Turner, either of whom would have energised the base and incentivised them to vote on election day, Biden, similar to Hillary Clinton in 2016, opted for a ‘safe’ pick, who brings nothing new to the ticket and is offensive to a substantial part of the Democratic party electorate because of her troubling prosecutorial record. 

A week before Harris dropped out from the Democratic Party primaries, an Economist/YouGov poll had indicated that the Senator of California received four per cent support amongst the electorate. Her popularity with black voters stood at seven per cent, behind Joe Biden (46 per cent), Bernie Sanders (13 per cent), and Elizabeth Warren (ten per cent). Furthermore, Harris’s popularity with Latinos was even lower, two per cent, with Joe Biden (24 per cent), Bernie Sanders (23 per cent), Elizabeth Warren (ten per cent), and Pete Buttigieg (nine per cent) ranking in front of her.

These numbers refute the simplistic way of thinking that a person of colour will be appealing to people of colour, a crucial demographic group for the Democrats. In fact, it was the old white candidates who enjoyed most support from African Americans and Latinos. Her electoral strength is further undermined by the fact that she represents California, a solidly Blue State. At least some of the other names in Biden’s list, such as Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who represent the battleground states of Michigan and Minnesota respectively, are popular amongst their constituencies and add electoral strength to the Democratic presidential ticket, especially against the backdrop of Hillary Clinton’s underwhelming performance in the Rust Belt in 2016.

However, this poll was released at the end of November, and a great deal has happened since then: a global pandemic which destabilised the US and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests which have put questions of racial justice at the centre of political discourse in the last few months. This new environment might have pushed Joe Biden to pick a woman of colour as his running mate, which explains his choice of Kamala Harris, who has a mixed Indian and Jamaican heritage. But she can hardly be considered the face of justice, racial or otherwise, as her highly problematic prosecutorial record as California’s attorney general and San Francisco district attorney suggests. It will be impossible to enumerate all of her despicable actions, but some of the most disturbing ones will be highlighted.

To begin with, she failed to prosecute OneWest Bank for “over a thousand violations of foreclosure laws“. When asked for the reasons behind her decision, Harris responded, “It is a decision my office made.” Her vagueness and unwillingness to answer this straightforward question show cowardice and failure of leadership. Her action, or lack thereof, is even more damaging considering that the CEO of OneWest Bank at the time was Steven Mnuchin, the current Secretary of the Treasury. Had she acted when she had the opportunity, Mnuchin might have never been a part of any administration. 

Harris also has a disappointing record when it comes to civil rights protection. According to the New York Post, she ignored calls from civil rights activists to investigate lethal police shootings in Los Angeles and San Francisco following the 2014 police-involved killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. She also did not endorse a 2015 bill demanding that a special prosecutor investigate deadly police shootings. Moreover, she appears to be intimately tied to the prison-industrial complex in California. In 2014, she astonishingly professed ignorance of the fact that lawyers in her office argued in court that a programme designed to parole more prisoners would severely affect the state’s source of cheap labour, especially those inmates who fight wildfires. Apparently, this is something for which prisoners in California ought to be prepared.

Last but not least, Kamala Harris is simply not the right candidate for the current moment. In a country where 67 per cent of people are in favour of marijuana legalisation, Senator Harris was responsible for the incarceration of 1,560 people for marijuana-related offences in California. This occurrence did not prevent her from admitting, with a well-placed giggle, to having smoked marijuana in college in an interview for The Breakfast Club, invoking her Jamaican heritage in the process. This action provoked her father, Donald Harris, a professor of economics at Stanford, to publicly dissociate himself from his daughter and to accuse her of being in “pursuit of identity politics”. Thus, just in one action two major weaknesses of Kamala Harris were revealed: hypocrisy and identity tokenism. 

There are yet more instances of her abysmal record, from criminalising truancy to blocking evidence for death row convicts. Her past actions ultimately demonstrate that Kamala Harris is an ideologically vacuous politician, whose sole advantage is her identity as a woman of colour. This identity pandering may be enough to win the 2020 Presidential election, but it affirms the direction the Democratic party wishes to follow: more neoliberalism and fewer discussions of actual policy.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr