Sometimes there’s a woman, well, she’s the woman for her time and place. She fits right in there. And that’s Kamala Harris in 2020. … Sometimes there’s a woman, sometimes, there’s a woman. Aw. I lost my train of thought there.
But, aw, hell. I’ve done introduced her enough.
Four score and seven years ago — or at least it feels that way now — in January 2019, Sen. Kamala Devi Harris launched her presidential campaign in front of 20,000 purple-and-gold bedecked onlookers packing Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza.
It was a joyous and ebullient moment — recalling it now induces nostalgia for joy, ebullience, and crowds — and it spurred a flurry of national profiles examining just who this woman was, and what she’d accomplished while advancing along the political Candyland board, wending her way toward the White House.
The first question is difficult to know, in part because Harris wants it to be difficult to know. Unlike Joe Biden, who last week tapped her as his running mate, Harris is not an effusive talker or an open book.
But the second question is, rather literally, an open book. The national profiles documenting the slings and arrows of Harris’ tenure as San Francisco’s District Attorney, California’s Attorney General, and her current position as the state’s junior senator were merely compendiums of the exacting and thorough coverage she received in local papers during an era when Bay Area newsrooms were more crowded, robust, and well-stocked with institutional memory.
Your humble narrator at one point obtained an opposition research report on Harris amassed by one of the (deeply flawed, strategically inept) candidates she has vanquished on her steady ascent. It was — no exaggeration — the size of a volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. But it was not sourced via spelunking expeditions into Harris’ trash bin or covert wire taps. It was, again, largely a compendium of Harris’ daily coverage in the local papers, starting with the 1994 Herb Caen column introducing her as Willie Brown’s “new steady,” and highlighting the well-compensated commissions he placed her on in the 1990s.
So, in short, any reasonably informed and semi-literate voter had easy access to reams of serious and relevant information regarding Harris’ strikes-and-gutters governing performance and political connections — as did a litany of political opponents, with budgets to spend on lurid mailers and attack ads.
And she is now the (presumptive) Democratic vice presidential nominee, and those opponents are sloshing about in various political septic tanks.
So, we may not know Kamala Harris, but we do know what she did or did not do in office (and out of it). Or at least we’ve been given every opportunity to know. The question is: Do we care?
The evidence points to the contrary.
That may not be a substantive achievement — but it is a useful skill to have. Considering the stakes in November, it may well be the most useful skill of all.
Rather obviously, Harris is not at the top of the Democratic ticket. Her campaign for president was not, ultimately, successful — but her position as Biden’s No. 2 indicates it wasn’t entirely unsuccessful either.
Clearly she walked away from the wreckage of that campaign relatively intact. And, while not enough voters went her way in the primaries, it’d be a stretch to say it was because of dissatisfaction after parsing her record as a mid-sized county prosecutor. Or, as a longtime San Francisco political mover and shaker told us last year, “Does anyone think the No. 1 issue in America right now is how progressive Kamala Harris was 15 years ago? Will it matter … in a caucus in Iowa? I don’t think it’ll be about fact-checking. It’ll be about organizing campaigns.”
The field is far clearer now — Christ, do you remember some of the people running for president back then? Any problems Harris had fighting to garner name recognition and national ID have now been remedied by being named to the ticket.
Harris’ often contradictory record — her now-archaic earlier views on legalized/decriminalized marijuana, police accountability, and mass incarceration, and unconvincing attempts to conjure those into claims she was a “progressive prosecutor” — certainly turned off critics on both the left and the right.
But November’s election, unlike the primary, is a binary decision, and most voters will likely come to realize this. Besides, it really does feel a bit nonsensical to parse Harris’ decades-old decisions and dalliances considering the increasingly authoritarian and kleptocratic outrages now emanating daily from the Trump administration.
And, for good or ill, someone else figures to be organizing the campaign now.
So, this ought to free up Harris to do what she does best: make a strong impression; impress people with powerful speeches and swashbuckling prosecutorial questions and arguments that take the pants off hapless opponents; tirelessly campaign and fund-raise among her ridiculous Rolodex of billionaires and tech giants and captains of industry and Obama apparatchiks and Indian Americans and African Americans and Democratic power players.
To, in a nutshell, win against yet another deeply flawed and strategically inept opponent.
“Has her record ever mattered?” a longtime city political operative with presidential campaign experience mused last year. “Democrats have always had a resume fallacy. They like people with these jam-packed resumes. And our resume candidates get into races against GOP candidates who are good on-message.”
Election day is Nov. 3, and Harris’ resume is what it is — but she promises to be on-message.
In an exhausting political landscape in which substantive and major scandals and disasters drift out of the news cycle in days if not hours, a smart, strong, enthralling, biracial woman with a proven ability to elicit “a very vague, broad positive feeling” could be a more formidable asset for the Democratic ticket than a sheaf of plans or white papers.
Voters who are uncommitted or undecided at this point aren’t exactly looking for that. Clearly they need to be reached some other way.
This could well be the role of a lifetime for Kamala Devi Harris, regardless of her actual record.
Or in spite of it.
Because sometimes there’s a woman, well, she’s the woman for her time and place. She fits right in there.
But, aw, hell. I’ve done introduced her enough.
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