Kamala Harris’ flameout exposes the Democratic party’s progressivist shift
For many within her party, Harris was never going to be the right fit to run for the nation’s highest office.
(A slimmed-down version of this article was posted at the Dallas Morning News.)
Two weeks ago, I opened Twitter to see headlines proclaiming that 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-California) was effectively ending her run for the nation’s highest office.
While for months the news has been rife with accounts of her campaign’s missteps ranging from the lack of clear messaging to dissension and lackluster fund-raising, I couldn’t help but feel an inkling of curiosity at another variable that monopolized news of the Harris candidacy: her race.
For many blacks and so-called progressives, Harris’ record as a tough-on-crime State Attorney General of California all but de-legitimized her as a serious candidate.
“I swear,” said a close friend, a Democrat from California who knows and respects Sen. Harris, when she entered the race in January. “I had better not hear a single person come at her with this ‘She’s a former prosecutor’ B.S.”
I called my friend immediately upon hearing the news of Harris’ exit. He was livid. For obvious and not-so-obvious reasons.
He lamented that blacks, specifically, never gave Harris a fair shot, preferring “gaffe-prone Biden,” facts supported by the polls. He reserved his most blistering attack, however, for the Democratic Party, especially the progressive arm: “How can they say they’re the party for diversity when the only viable candidates left are old and white? I think it’s time blacks and everyone started taking a close look at the Democratic Party to see if it really represents their best interests.”
More specifically, blacks must question why they would not be well-served by having a president who is tough on crime.
When viewed through the Progressive Democrat lens, AG Harris’ record is certainly not without blemish. She eschewed calls to support criminal justice reform, fought to lock up the parents of habitually truant kids and failed to provide support for regulating the use of police body cameras.
Yet, not once did I hear the substance of her politics considered during any discussions I was privy to among Democrats.
Locally and nationally, blacks’ and progressives’ issues with Harris had everything to do with her blackness or lack thereof.
Countless news headlines asked is “Kamala Harris Black Enough?” In one interview, she tackled the issue head-on: “For other people who can’t figure out am I ‘black enough,’ I kinda feel like that’s their problem, not mine.”
Interestingly, the collective political identity of those who expressed concern as to her “blackness” is precisely the group who’ve built a platform on “Let’s embrace and empower minorities”: Democrats.
As a lifelong Southerner who grew up on a steady diet of conservative values — hard work, thrift, education, get what you earn, etc. — my political purview has always skewed heavily right. This is no accident, mind you.
The Democratic party’s obsessive, unrelenting faith in the belief that racism is the greatest threat to black and brown progress has always struck me as generally heavy-handed and specifically disingenuous.
It’s not that discrimination of all sorts doesn’t deleteriously impact the agency of historically marginalized groups; it’s that progressives’ viewing of racism as intractable serves a convenient purpose: The derivative fealty from blacks who must forever rely on the largesse of liberal whites to reach their full potential.
Or, as I have come to learn, blacks’ usefulness to progressive Democrats is inextricably tied to the former’s willingness to feign helplessness.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, himself a product of the rural South, made a similar point when speaking to the students of Savannah State College in 1985, according to Corey Thomas, author of The Enigma of Clarence Thomas.
“You all have a much tougher road to travel,” Thomas said. “Not only do you have to contend with the ever-present bigotry, you must do so with a recent tradition that almost requires you wallow in excuses.”
As my friend made clear, Harris — for all of her campaign contretemps — was bound to forever be squeezed between the progressives, who thought her success disqualified her for victim status, and blacks, who thought she’d never be black enough.
Let me be emphatic: I’m making no assertions about the efficacy or validity of Harris’ candidacy or the ability of people of any hue to choose the candidate they feel best represents their interests.
I am, however, saying that disavowing a candidate because of false notions about race makes it nearly impossible to elect candidates of color who will commit to tackling the real and varied issues of the black community.
It’s reminiscent of the episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air TV show when the fictional character Carlton, played by Alphonso Ribeiro, is not accepted to an all-black fraternity because, as one gatekeeper put it, he wasn’t black enough.
Carlton, in spurning the group, reminded his “brother” that he was creating the same barriers they were all attempting to overcome.
“I’m running the same race and jumping the same hurdles as you,” he said. “So why are you tripping me up?”
I think it’s high time black Democrats look themselves in the mirror and ask the same question.