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Did Kamala Harris Really Do What She Had To Do?

The rhetoric of politicians being justified in doing whatever they have to do to further their careers has always been the problem.

Peter Beinart wrote a well meaning but unconvincing op-ed for The Atlantic titled Kamala Harris Did What She Had To Do. In it he explains that had Kamala Harris, a woman of color, not taken the political stances she had during her career, she would not have been able to advance onto a national political career at all.

It’s no secret that Senator Harris’ record has drawn scorn and ire from progressives.

Harris’ spotted past as a prosecutor includes upholding wrongful convictions, opposing or staying silent on issues of criminal justice reforms, her opposition to marijuana legalization, and the criminalization of parents of truant children.

With a record like this, it was only a matter of time before an opponent would mention it on the debate stage — and it was mentioned with great effect.

News that Kamala Harris dropped out of the presidential race made headlines on December 3, 2019, but you can see the exact moment her campaign effectively ended during CNN’s Democratic presidential debate:

The fact that Harris could not actually address each specific criticism from Tulsi Gabbard regarding her record as a prosecutor was extremely telling — telling enough for her to realize that her presidential campaign was over.

There have been a few voices in support of Senator Harris and her record as a prosecutor though. Supporters like to cite that she has always been opposed to the death penalty even when it was an unpopular stance following the fatal shooting of a California police officer in 2004, a stance that nearly cost her an election. But with the threat of her career nearly coming to an end still vivid in her mind, she unprogressively avoided confrontation with the police for the rest of her career as Attorney General of California.

It seems that for every progressive move she has taken, she was always willing to take a few steps back if and when the backlash threatened the possibility of furthering her own career.

Beinart’s general argument that “she did questionable things to further her career as a woman of color and that’s justified” is a poor argument in excusing her less than progressive record. And the thing that bothers me most is that Harris would be above reproach on this specific matter of semantics if she didn’t consistently try to pass herself off as something she is not. She’s progressive when the political climate deems it favorable, and unprogressive when it does not. That is not a true progressive.

This is why Bernie Sanders had such immense and fervent support behind him — politicians that don’t have a record of hypocrisy and flip-flopping on their opinions for political gain is a rare breed, and Kamala is not among them.

Though it would be immensely more truthful for her to admit that she’s another neoliberal politician with no firm stances, swinging from vine to vine based on the context of current events and public opinion in this country, that is not something she will ever admit. Because like Peter Beinart says, that would never have allowed her to advance her political career onto the national arena.

I think what Peter Beinart’s piece tries to convince us of is that we should excuse the behavior of politicians of color which have jaded Americans for decades — the jadedness that continues to lead to poor voter turnouts and political engagement.

When politicians who stand for only what’s convenient for election are rewarded with burgeoning political careers, it’s an indication to the common folk that the system is broken. And when the implication is made that politicians of color must bend over backwards even more so than their white counterparts to curry the favor of the powerful, I have to question how that will be received by the public in times of civil and political unrest.

Democrats, leftists, and generally anyone opposed to Trump are clamoring for reasons to support a Biden-Harris ticket given that the prospect of another four years with Trump in office will spell disaster for this country. Anyone can understand that at this moment in history.

But it seems disingenuous to start excusing the self serving actions of career politicians in an attempt to garner support for the Democratic ticket. It’s dismissive of all those who actually suffered because of the political power plays that boosted these politicians to a national spotlight. And it does little to quell the very valid fears many people have that promises made on the campaign trail will mean nothing once politicians are back to wavering in their stance for the means of re-election.

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I enjoy writing about society and culture, especially of the internet variety. janicebaecopy@gmail.com

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