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Kamala Harris and the Democrats’ Identity Crack-Up

Summary:
In theory, Kamala Harris was the perfect presidential candidate for today’s Democratic Party. She is black, female and popular in California, the deepest blue of the Democratic blue states. She would be ideally positioned, some said, to reunite the ‘Obama coalition’, which brought together African-Americans and college-educated whites. The reality, however, was nothing like that. Harris, who was once among the top contenders to be the Democrats’ nominee for president, watched her support fall to a low of three per cent in the polls. Her campaign staff were bickering and telling-all to the New York Times, and her bank account was running out of money. Yesterday, she dropped out of the race. A few weeks ago, Harris suggested that

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In theory, Kamala Harris was the perfect presidential candidate for today’s Democratic Party. She is black, female and popular in California, the deepest blue of the Democratic blue states. She would be ideally positioned, some said, to reunite the ‘Obama coalition’, which brought together African-Americans and college-educated whites.

The reality, however, was nothing like that. Harris, who was once among the top contenders to be the Democrats’ nominee for president, watched her support fall to a low of three per cent in the polls. Her campaign staff were bickering and telling-all to the New York Times, and her bank account was running out of money. Yesterday, she dropped out of the race.

A few weeks ago, Harris suggested that she was being penalised for her identity, questioning if ‘is America ready for a woman and a woman of colour to be president of the United States?’. Now, after her campaign has ended, identity-focused Democrats are worried about what Harris’s demise says about the party’s image. ‘You have to recognise that going from the most diverse field ever in January to a potentially all-white debate stage in December is catastrophic’, tweeted Leah Greenberg, co-executive director of Indivisible, a national progressive group.

But, if anything, Harris benefited from her identity, rather than being a victim of it. She was elevated and celebrated by Democrats and the media because of her skin colour and sex, well beyond what her political talents and track record justified. In a country that elected a black man (Barack Obama) twice, and gave the highest number of votes to a woman (Hillary Clinton) in the last presidential election, there are no grounds to say the American people are ‘not ready’ for a woman of colour.

Harris’s ‘not ready’ comment was really an attempt to blame the voters for her own failings. Implicitly, she was suggesting that the country is racist. Yet it was black voters who didn’t find her appealing. In particular, Harris was unable to wrest blacks from supporting Joe Biden in South Carolina and other states. Even in her base in Oakland, California, which has a significant black population who know her well, she was in fourth place. It seems that black voters don’t conform to Democratic strategists’ condescending view that they will vote with their skin colour.

The truth is that Harris was a dull and lacklustre candidate. Attractive and photogenic, yes, but the problems started as soon as she opened her mouth. She would speak in platitudes that would make your eyes glaze over, then laugh too hard and for too long at her own unfunny jokes. She was prone to bust out in cringe-inducing dance moves. She came across as artificial and stiff, in an era that prizes authenticity.

These personality flaws were outward reflections of a deeper problem. Harris simply did not appear to know what she stood for, or even why she was running. She sought to pander to all of the Democratic Party’s factions, and ended up unable to connect with any.

She established a trademark for vacillation. At a CNN town hall in January, in an off-the-cuff remark, she said she supported the complete elimination of private health insurance. But she then reversed her position, saying she no longer supported Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All legislation (even though she was an original co-sponsor), and later unveiled a plan that would provide some aspects of Medicare but maintain private insurance.

Similarly, she made a big splash at the June debate by attacking Biden on his record regarding race and school bussing in the 1970s. ‘I do not believe you are a racist’, she said to Biden, but of course she was accusing him of racism. But in the days after the debate, she waffled about her own views on bussing, and seemed to retreat. She eventually admitted she didn’t support the federal government mandating that black kids get bussed to schools in white districts – which just happened to be Biden’s position in the 1970s.

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