— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 11, 2020
I’ve known Senator @KamalaHarris for a long time. She is more than prepared for the job. She’s spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake. This is a good day for our country. Now let’s go win this thing. pic.twitter.com/duJhFhWp6g
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 11, 2020
Kamala Harris has charted a meteoric rise within the Democratic Party as one of its most potent and effective messengers – even as she’s struggled to refine her own positions on issues galvanizing the party’s base.
The California senator joins Joe Biden’s presidential campaign as a barrier-breaking running mate who has built a national following through her fierce interrogations of Trump administration officials and championing of racial justice. It’s a resume that Harris’ allies contend is tailor-made for the moment, as the 2020 race plays out against the backdrop of a widespread reckoning on race and a spiraling pandemic that’s devastated communities of color.
But Harris’ shifting positions on key policy matters undermined her short-lived run for the presidency. A former California attorney general and district attorney, Harris faced criticism over a prosecutorial record that doesn’t always match with the progressive positions she espouses today. On health care, her waffling on “Medicare for All” during the presidential primary revealed a candidate torn between appealing to progressives demanding structural change and moderates favoring incrementalism – and satisfying none in the process.
“It took a little bit to get her footing,” said Roger Salazar, a California Democratic strategist and former Clinton White House official, adding that the next few months will test how Harris learned from her stumbles on the campaign trail. “Good leaders focus on the issues that are in front of them … and she’s a quick study.” [Continue reading…]
Biden had previously vowed to choose a female running mate, and the typical vice-presidential pick is a senator or governor. Harris is the sole Black woman in either category. In one sense, therefore, she clearly benefits from the new political reality that the Black Lives Matter movement has created. But that new political reality has also amplified criticism from progressives. In yesterday’s New York Times, the reporters Danny Hakim, Stephanie Saul, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. quoted David Campos, a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, who argues that when Harris “had the opportunity to do something about police accountability” as the city’s district attorney, “she was either not visible, or when she was, she was on the wrong side.” Criticisms like these, the Times notes, have led progressives to ask: “Is Ms. Harris essentially a political pragmatist, or has she in fact changed?”
That’s a false dichotomy. The implication is that if politics has influenced Harris’s views on criminal justice, progressives shouldn’t support her for vice president. But that’s naive. Because if politics hadn’t influenced Harris’s views, she probably wouldn’t be in a position to join the Democratic ticket in the first place. Commentators can ignore the way American politics actually works. Black women who want a career in national politics cannot.
A close reading of Harris’s record suggests that she likely has shifted her views on police misconduct for political reasons. An opponent of the death penalty, she refused as San Francisco’s district attorney to seek the execution of a man who killed a police officer in 2004. Police officials savaged her. Senator Dianne Feinstein, her fellow Democrat, undercut her. When Harris ran for California attorney general six years later, the decision still haunted her. Every other California Democrat in a statewide race that year won by double digits. Harris, competing against a Republican strongly backed by the police, won by less than a single point.
It’s in this context that Harris, as the Times points out, “largely avoided intervening in cases involving killings by the police” in her early years as state attorney general. After 2014, when the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer sparked the Black Lives Matter movement, she inched toward a more reformist stance. By 2016, she supported what the Times described as “a modest expansion of her office’s powers to investigate police misconduct.” But her demands for police oversight were nowhere near as sweeping as they have become this year.
Were these shifts opportunistic? Probably. They were also, in all likelihood, necessary for Harris’s political survival. [Continue reading…]