Culture

A WHISTLE STOP TOUR: KAMALA HARRIS

From rival to running mate, Kamala Harris makes history as the first woman, and first black and asian woman in the White House

21.08.2020

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When Kamala Harris – the junior senator from California – was officially announced as Joe Biden’s running mate, Twitter, naturally, erupted into a jarring cacophony of cheers and groans. We love Kamala, cried one camp, interspering shots of the 56-year-old to Azealia Banks. In the other, her face photoshopped to a police officer arresting African American children. That’s quite a big jump, right!

And yet, for all the disagreements, she won. Harris is to be the first woman Vice President of the United States, and the first Black and South Asian person in the post. Still, liberals are exceptionally gifted at not agreeing on stuff. They can’t seem to agree on Harris either. But rather than try to convert you with a well-placed, hair-flicking gif, or a pithy tweet that decries Ms Harris as a bringer of mortal plague, here are the facts. And never fear: Twitter will still hate your final decision either way.

Who Is She?

In short: a woman long destined for political stardom. Graduating from Howard, a historically Black university in DC, Harris spent time interning in the mailroom of the late Californian senator Alan Cranston, before setting her sights on a career as a public prosecutor. Which sounds a bit Ally McBeal. But, in the grand and complex labyrinth that is the US legal system, a prosecutor is a public official who conducts a criminal case and proceedings against an individual.

From there, Harris ran for (then won) public office as the District Attorney of San Francisco – a post she enjoyed for seven years. Again, in US parlance, the DA is an elected individual that oversees legal proceedings of a certain district. You have to be voted in for this sort of thing, because Americans love voting because FREEDOM. Then, it was onto a post (again, elected) as the Attorney General of California: an even bigger remit that put Ms Harris in charge of the entire state.

This is when she started getting noticed. There were murmurs of a job in Barack Obama’s cabinet. She was even touted as a future president (funny that!). And so, when she ran for the vacant position as a senator for California in 2016, Harris won by a comfortable margin over her competitor and a heartfelt victory speech – one delivered on the same evening that Hillary Clinton lost the presidency – built a national profile. That was quickly bolstered by performances in hearings to confirm Trump’s cabinet members. She eviscerated the likes of Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court Justice that was accused of sexual assault, and stumped Attorney General William Barr over alleged corruption in the White House. Give it a YouTube. Marvellous viewing.

Nobody was surprised, then, when an official 2020 run for president happened under a banner of ‘Kamala Harris For The People’. It started off well. Very well, in fact. But as the campaign lurched onwards, Ms Harris’s poll numbers nosedived, and she suspended her run before the first votes were made in Iowa. She came out relatively unscathed, and thanks to her general performance, was prime Vice President material for the eventual nominee.

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Why Is She So Great?

She pulls no punches. As a former prosecutor, Harris has proven herself to be an absolute brawler in debates, all the while remaining likeable, charming and charismatic – a line that is depressingly much more difficult for women candidates to walk. It’s that star power that Biden, as a 77-year-old, needs from his much younger VP pick.

What’s more, the selection of Ms Harris is an historic one. As the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Indian mother, the 55-year-old is the first Black and Asian woman to ever be on the presidential ticket of a major US political party. Given the rallying cry of the Black Lives Matter movement, and given African American women as a key pillar of the Democratic voting bloc, it’s representation at the top.

But look to policy too, and Ms Harris is quite the liberal voting progressively on things like healthcare (yeah, it’s not free in America) and gun rights (yeah, because I can openly carry a machine gun in some parts of America). That’s a foil to Biden’s more centrist, moderate tendencies, and if he is to serve one term if elected, his VP choice will be seen as the natural successor. Someone who believes healthcare to be a right and not a privilege is probably the sort of President we need.

Why Is She sometimes considered Awful?

The reason Ms Harris’s presidential campaign flopped is because she couldn’t really explain why she wanted to be president. Competitors that fared much better had a vision: Bernie Sanders wanted ‘revolution’. Elizabeth Warren wanted ‘big structural change’. Joe Biden wanted a return to the Obama years. But Harris? Well, it felt like she just fancied being in the Oval Office.

That very idea has lent credence to theories that she’s in it for glory and self-gain, as opposed to governing by an ideology Harris truly believes in. And, as a former prosecutor enforcing and advocating laws that disproportionately affect African American neighbourhoods, her record is patchy: she refused to pursue the death penalty against a man charged with murdering a police officer, but she’s also endorsed the actual death penalty in court. She also spoke of being a “progressive prosecutor”, one that should “speak up for those whose voices aren’t being heard” in her 2019 memoir The Truths We Hold, but at the same, Harris rolled out an anti-truancy scheme that slapped parents of school-shy kids with penalties. It’s not the sort of thing progressives like to hear.

What Happens Now?

No matter how much Donald Trump whines, and no matter how much hair dye is spilled by his increasingly frenzied legal team, Harris will be inaugurated on 20 January 2021. She’s got quite a job on her hands. Covid-19 has spiralled out of control in the US, and the economy, like every other major country, has been badly bruised. That’s a huge burning shit tip to inherit.

It all depends on whether Biden wants her help though. Traditionally, the Vice President is only as powerful as their President allows them to be. Al Gore, Bill Clinton’s second-in-command, was rumoured to be on a very short leash as Hillary Clinton took on a leading role in the White House. On the flipside, George W. Bush’s VP Dick Cheney wielded an enormous amount of power, especially in terms of foreign policy. If a President so wishes, their VP can be a professional ribbon cutter only; teas with C-list national figures, opening a new train station in the arse end of nowhere and the like.

Biden’s own relationship with his then-boss Barack Obama provides a big hint as to Harris’s future. The President-elect shared a close working relationship with everyone’s favourite Democrat president, often countering Obama’s youth and inexperience with decades of work in the Senate. What’s more, Politico reported that Biden was searching for a running mate that was ‘simpatico’ with his ideals when the hunt was underway. Harris very much fits those ideals, and one can assume she’ll be front and centre of the next White House.

Images | Shutterstock

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