Kamala Harris – 2020 Vision

Mixed-race and female. A couple of presidential elections ago, that would have been enough to ensure Kamala Harris was a non-starter. Today, it makes her the ideal candidate to beat Donald Trump.

Posted mercredi, mars 6 2019
Kamala Harris – 2020 Vision

In 2008 she would not have had a shot, but the American political landscape has changed markedly in the last decade, and in the last two years especially. The Oakland native is the early favorite to win the democratic nomination, having emerged as the candidate with the best chance of beating Donald Trump to the White House in 2020.


She comes onto the national scene with the Democratic party still smarting from Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 and an electorate largely exasperated with the events of the last two years. Now, aspects that would have hindered her had she gone up against, say, George W. Bush in 2004 (being a woman, of mixed race, with immigrants for parents) are suddenly viewed as advantages. She is being tipped as the natural successor to Barrack Obama, and the one who can turn Trump into a one-term president.


An open, modern figure with broad appeal, Harris is sufficiently charismatic to win over a large section of voters and sufficiently battle-hardened to go toe to toe with the outgoing president – able to give as good as she gets when it comes to the sort of verbal jousting he relishes.


The anti-Trump


At 54 years old, the media-friendly Harris has won the respect of many. The child of a Jamaican professor of economics father and an Indian cancer specialist mother, she has achieved much in her life to date, graduating from prestigious schools such as Hawkins and Howard, and spending eight years as district attorney for San Francisco before becoming a senator in 2017. She would appear to be a pure product of the meritocratic system with the added bonus of incarnating diversity. When it comes to the American Dream, Harris ticks all the boxes. Throw in her magnetic personality and iron will and it’s not hard to see why 20,000 showed up to watch her announce her candidacy and how she could receive over a million and a half dollars in donations in the space of 24 hours.


Political scientist and America-watcher Nicole Bacheran is not surprised. “She’s beautiful, charismatic and experienced, and what’s more, she’s not afraid to mix it. She is capable of destroying Donald Trump.” Neither is she lacking in know-how. Whether it’s on social media, where she has made combativeness her trademark, or during her public speaking engagements, where the word fearless is ever present, Harris has a knack for getting people to sit up and take notice. Her campaign video begins with the words “I was born in Oakland,” advertising her street cred. Oakland, that downtrodden city across the bay from affluent San Francisco, synonymous with the civil rights movement, the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a hotbed of racial activism. What better way to burnish her tough-girl credentials?
“The fact that she grew up in Oakland gives her a certain, almost badass, stature,” which in the current intentionally brutal and immoderate political climate would appear to be a competitive advantage. She has successfully framed her combative style as part of her proud family heritage declaring, “My parents played an active part in the civil rights movement and all throughout my life they taught me it was my responsibility to fight for what’s right. That is what I am doing.”


Combative, competent, a veritable authority figure (the fact that she was a DA for seven years gives her strong law and order bonafides) she seems ideally placed to respond to the challenges facing the country in the next decade. “Out of all the candidate to declare, she has the most going for her at the start-line,” adds Bacheran “that’s not to say she will be the next president, or even win the Democratic nomination, merely that she’s a politician for her time.” An time that has seen the precipitous decline of existing political archetypes, undermined and compromised by the turbulence of recent years, and paved the way for a new breed of politician.       


Ideal timing


“A dozen years ago Harris would have stood no chance, but recent events have changed the political landscape. Barrack Obama broke the race barrier by becoming the first non-white president, and Hillary Clinton, although she fell at the final hurdle, won the popular vote – the timing is perfect.”
In addition, the defeat of Hillary Clinton was a missed opportunity for Democrats, conscious of the political capital to be gained should a Democrat - and not a Republican - woman take the White House for the first time. To the extent that they would throw the weight of the party machine behind Harris at the expense of established names such as Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders? Quite possibly, in Bacheran’s opinion, since she compares favorably with the current president, who is totally repellant to a large section of American society. “The fact that she is a young, self-made woman of mixed race is her best weapon against a 72-year-old white man known for spouting lies on Twitter.” A weapon that has not gone unnoticed by Harris who, without ever referring to Trump by name, referenced her Republican rival during her presidential campaign announcement and is positioning herself as a sort of anti-Trump by promising electors integrity, truth and decency. Message received.


Her early-favorite status is underscored by the fact that Harris seems capable of bringing the largest number of people with her. Within the Democratic party, she is capable of reconciling centrists and those with left-leaning tendencies, “as she indisputably comes from the Democratic establishment, in the image of Obama or Clinton, but has also adopted a number of leftwing positions,” explains Bacharan, citing her positions on abortion, the environment, gun control and universal healthcare. Add to that her capacity to successfully court public opinion with the phrase ‘For the People’, summing up her willingness not only to speak for everyone, but be heard by everyone. An excellent choice of campaign slogan, according to Bacharan “It’s intelligent and sober. Everyone can identify with the phrase - it’s Abraham Lincoln and the Constitution. It’s perfect.”


Chinks in the armor  


It remains to be seen whether it will be enough to compensate for her perceived faults in the eyes of detractors. Among those, as someone who prioritized work over family, having married late and remained childless -  as opposed to Barack Obama who conformed to the popular image with a wife and two kids - she has been labelled a careerist, which the former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown did nothing to dispel in a recent newspaper op-ed where he reveals the two dated and that he helped advance her career by appointing her to two state commissions. Another stick with which to beat Harris has been her record as DA which some judge to have been insufficiently pro-poor, pro-women and pro-minorities. However, this weakness can easily be turned into a strength when running for president, stresses Bacharan. She Is tougher than Barrack Obama, that’s certain, but going up against someone in Trump who is extremely brutal with his adversaries, she knows it will be a cage-fight.” And that, undoubtedly, she is prepared for.       


By Caroline Castets


(Translation: Simon McGeady)