In the wake of this week’s news that Senator Kamala Harris has restructured her campaign to go all-in on Iowa, I feel compelled to make a case for her candidacy … and even if you’re undecided, or you’ve already made up your mind to support someone else, there are good reasons for all of us to keep her in this race.
[UPDATE: I have offered here what I think is a convincing argument for Kamala Harris’s candidacy that is worth reading in its entirety, but if you’re in a rush or have ADHD or just don’t like reading lots of words, then CLICK HERE to skip down to the part that I most want you to read before you leave.]
First, allow me to explain why I believe Harris should be the nominee, starting with a quote from this piece that I wrote the day after she officially announced her candidacy:
I would find it as distasteful to cast a vote for Senator Kamala Harris based solely on her race and gender as do I find it disgusting that no small number of people cast their vote for Donald Trump based solely on his. That said, given that racists and misogynists reacted to the first Black president and first female Democratic nominee by electing a racist misogynist in whom they saw themselves, I would love for America to respond by next electing a president whose victory would be nothing short of a complete and utter repudiation of racism and misogyny.”
Kamala Harris — a women who has won multiple statewide elections in a state comprising 40 million people, and who ran the second-largest justice department in America (second only to the U.S. Department of Justice) — is the candidate most qualified to lead and effectively govern on day one of her presidency … but also? The 2020 election is a referendum on not only Donald Trump the person, but every vile, corrupt thing for which he and his followers stand … and the pride, relief, joy and restoration of faith that I and millions upon millions of other Americans would experience upon seeing a strong, capable, bad-ass, half-Black, half-Indian woman evict his racist, misogynistic, woefully incompetent ass from the White House would be immeasurable.
More importantly, though, electing Kamala Harris would send a clear and necessary message to the marginalized among us who have been most harmed by Trump’s presidency, as well as to the world as a whole: “We are not the racist, misogynistic, cruel, garbage nation that, for the past four years, our president and his party have made us appear to be.” It is a message we all should be eager to send, and there is no candidate through whose election we can more effectively send it than Kamala Harris.
It is one thing to make an intellectual argument that we all are created equal while simultaneously electing only men for the entire, 230-year history of the American presidency — and, with but a single exception, only white men, at that; it is quite another thing to back up with action those otherwise hollow words by making a conscious and determined choice to place in the highest office on earth, for the first time ever, a woman — and not only a woman, but a Black woman who is just the second ever to serve in the United States Senate, born of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, whose ascension to the presidency would reaffirm the truth of the promise that America represents.
“But I like [Your Preferred Candidate’s Name Here] better!”
Cool. I don’t begrudge you that. Everyone has to support the candidate about whom they are most passionate. A truth upon which we all can agree, however, is that this primary campaign, and the Democratic presidential platform as a whole, can only benefit by keeping in the race the lone Black-female candidate. A candidate whose parents were immigrants, whose Jamaican and Indian heritage helped shape who she is, and who has the unique perspective of what life is like for a Black woman in America should remain in this discussion. Her candidacy’s ability to inspire people who see in her the potential for their own more promising future is more than enough reason to want her to remain in the race. And if she should fall short of getting the nomination, then whomever receives it will only benefit from a Kamala Harris endorsement that brings with it the largest possible and most highly motivated following she can muster … and the longer she remains in the race, the larger and more highly motivated that following will be.
Furthermore, if Harris does not get the nomination, whomever does would be well advised to tap her for the second slot on the ticket. All of the same things that make her the best presidential candidate would immediately become assets for whomever brings her on board as their VP, and keeping her in this race raises the odds of that scenario.
“But she’s a cop!”
While there are legitimate criticisms to be made of certain line items on Kamala Harris’s record, her responses to those criticisms ring true, as does her overall argument that, rather than protest the criminal-justice system from the outside, she chose to change it from within. If your purity test for her worthiness as a presidential candidate essentially amounts to blaming the first female District Attorney of San Francisco and first Black-female Attorney General of California for not singlehandedly undoing hundreds of years of systemic racism during her tenure, and you see that as something that outweighs the progress and change she was able to implement, you’re doing a great disservice to your own cause.
Particularly illuminating is this excerpt from an article about Harris (worth reading in its entirety) that The New York Times Magazine published during her 2016 run for the Senate:
As a prosecutor, Harris saw her peers making race-based assumptions when considering punishment. ‘I remember being in my office and hearing a group of my colleagues outside my door talking about whether to bring a gang enhancement,’ she told me, referring to the more severe penalty that prosecutors could ask for if the defendant was part of a gang. ‘They were talking about how these young people were dressed, what corner they were hanging out on and the music they were listening to. I remember saying: “Hey, guys, you know what? Members of my family dress that way. I grew up with people who live on that corner. … I still have a tape of that kind of music in my car.”’”
To have a woman with that perspective sitting in the Oval Office, and giving that woman the chance to hand pick the Attorney General of the United States, is an opportunity that is in no way outweighed by the criticisms some have leveled at her because of her law-enforcement background. In fact, in a field of Democratic hopefuls whose current frontrunners include candidates whom Trump and the Republican party surely will paint as soft-on-crime, tree-hugging socialists, Harris’s background as a prosecutor will not only benefit her on the debate stage against Trump, but also at the ballot box with moderate, independent voters.
As Obama’s former senior adviser and strategist David Axelrod put it in the previously mentioned New York Times Magazine article:
The image of toughness that comes from being in law enforcement may help candidates repel the biases against electing women to higher office. It’s an advantage as a launching pad.”
Fact check: True.
“But she doesn’t have a plan for that!”
Yes she does. In fact, she has plans for all of that … including:
- Medicare for all
- Climate crisis
- Raising teacher pay
- Criminal-justice reform
- Gun violence
- LGBTQ+ equality
- Debt-free college and student-debt relief
- Racial justice
- Gender equality
- Reproductive rights
… and much more. You should take the time to read her positions on the issues (and if you’re interested in learning more about Kamala herself, her autobiography is both a valuable and inspiring resource).
“But Jon, America just isn’t ready for a Black woman to be president; we have to beat Donald Trump, and the best way to do that is to appeal to moderate white voters.”
Listen closely, OK? Because, above and beyond all of the other reasons I have stated thus far — and recognizing that there are multiple candidates who are qualified to be the president — what I am about to say is the single most important reason Kamala Harris should be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee: She will excite and inspire more people to get out and stand in long lines on Election Day than any other candidate. She will bring to the polls people who otherwise will be staying home. It is a political certainty.
The key to winning the 2020 presidential election — in spite of voter suppression and foreign interference and all of the other obstacles that the Republicans will throw in our path — is voter turnout. We must overwhelm our opponents with huge numbers … and, statistically speaking, based on empirical data, nothing will generate massive voter turnout like the chance to make history.
It is no coincidence that the candidates who received the three-highest vote totals in the history of presidential elections are as follows:
1.) Barack Obama
2.) Barack Obama
3.) Hillary Clinton
Yes, really. A black man and a woman garnered more votes in a presidential election than every single white man who came before them … and only white men came before them.
Kamala Harris may be struggling to grab traction in a ridiculously and inexcusably bloated primary race, but in a general election against an unqualified, misogynistic, white, male racist, Kamala Harris is lightning in a bottle. Faced with a Black, female opponent who can think, govern, and debate circles around him, Donald Trump will seem exponentially smaller, weaker, and more incompetent … and when — not “if,” but “when” — he employs racism and misogyny to try to belittle, demean or otherwise dismiss Kamala Harris, it will blow up in his bigoted, chauvinistic face and generate support for his opponent in consequential ways that will never be realized if that opponent is white and male. Believe it.
Also, in a political setting where Donald Trump and Fox News and Republicans and right-wing conspiracy theorists still can’t keep Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s names out of their mouths, Kamala Harris is a fresh start. She is the reset America needs. Her candidacy and presidency will have no direct, connect-the-dot links to anyone who came before her, and she will represent a clear, stark, no-brainer choice for any fair-minded, democracy-loving American: Do you want four more years of chaos at the hands of an unfit racist and national-security threat who swindled his way into office by using racism and misogyny to appeal to the very worst instincts of the most bigoted among us, or do you want to propel the American story forward by electing his polar opposite — a strong, Black woman who is his superior in every imaginable way — and prove once and for all that we really and truly are better than this?
People will flock to the polls to vote for her.
We have before us the unique opportunity to make history while simultaneously correcting and repudiating in no uncertain terms the biggest mistake ever to befall the American presidency. We have a chance to propel America forward … and there is no telling when a chance like this may come again. Kamala Harris is that chance, and the time for us to take it is now.
If we stand with her, she’s got this.
Breaking barriers isn’t easy. But when we believe in what’s possible—no matter the odds—we can win. pic.twitter.com/kMjfhgK3OY
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) October 25, 2019