In what is without a doubt the most consequential presidential election in the history of the nation, former Vice President Joe Biden has chosen California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate.
Harris, who almost from the beginning of her professional career, where she started out in the prosecutor’s office in northern California seemed on track to eventually hold one of America’s highest offices in either of its three branches, was already highly visible even before the contentious Brett Cavanaugh hearings for his Supreme Court Justice seat where video footage of her questioning went viral. Harris, was noted then for her tough questioning of the man who hoped to ascend to the Supreme Court, but had been accused of a sexual assault incident dating back to his high school years. In fact, Trump brought up the issue after the announcement of Harris as Biden’s pick, calling her one of his favorite adjectives for women- “nasty”.
He stated, “She was extraordinarily nasty to Brett Kavanaugh — Judge Kavanaugh then, now Justice Kavanaugh. She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh.” He ended the diatribe with the not so subtle, “I won’t forget that soon.” He had also called her “nasty” over her questioning of Bill Barr’s handling of the Mueller Report.
Harris first came to national attention in the 2017 Senate hearings to determine Jeff Sessions’ fitness for Attorney General. Sessions, then an Alabama senator, memorably replied, “I’m not able to be rushed this fast! It makes me nervous.”
Harris boosted her profile even more in the Summer of 2019 as one of the first of over fifteen hopefuls, to throw her hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination. She was well-received but ultimately dropped out of the race reportedly due to lack of funding.
There is no doubt that Harris’ position as VP hopeful is seen as a victory for Black women, whose political activism goes back at least to the abolitionist movement of the nineteenth century. Black women have consistently delivered votes for numerous Democratic office-holders over the years and have worked tirelessly in grassroots organizing. Yet they have always been overlooked when it came to wielding true political and decision-making power.
Though Harris is seen as biracial, having an Indian mother who immigrated to the United States in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at UC Berkeley, her father is Black and also an immigrant. He came to the US in 1960 to do graduate work in economics, also at UC Berkeley. Both of her parents eventually became professors; her mother at McGill University Canada, her father at Stanford.
Vice Presidents have traditionally been chosen for the geographic electoral advantage they gave to a Presidential nominee; able to deliver votes in states where the presidential nominee was weaker. Harris is different. Joe Biden for all intents and purposes, already has the California vote. Harris is perceived as having a broad based appeal. She appeals to Black women as well many Asian-Americans who identify with her Asina background. She is a graduate of Howard University, one of America’s historically Black colleges and considered one of its best and most prestigious of the HBCUs. Bastions of knowledge that welcomed and supported Black achievement at a time when few mainstream universities did, HBCUs hold a special symbolism in the Black American community.
Harris is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest of the Black sororities, whose alumni traditionally are high achievers.
Harris is also seen as having great potential to ignite excitement of the base that Biden as a candidate, hasn’t been able to, particularly among younger voters. That level of excitement is seen as necessary not just in generating interest but in propelling voters to actually go out to the polls on voting day.
As of yesterday the punditry speculated as to what the Trump campaign would use as a cudgel to weaken Harris’ position as a candidate, saying that there really isn’t anything that stands out as for example, Benghazi would certainly have been for Susan Rice, who was another VP hopeful.
However, Harris when she became District Attorney in San Francisco, Harris declared she would never seek the death penalty. That principle was tested when a cop was murdered. Then Senator Dianne Feinsten implored, along with the police union, Harris to seek the death penalty in the case. Police unions traditionally see the deaths of police officers as the ultimate crime deserving of the ultimate penalty. Harris refused to change her position and was persona no grata to the police union in San Francisco thereafter.
Further, a,s California Attorney General Harris created Open Justice, an online platform to make criminal justice data available to the public. The database helped improve police accountability by collecting information on the number of deaths and injuries of those in police custody.
The power of the symbolism of law enforcement for both the Blackand white communities in America cannot be overstated, though for different reasons. It seems pretty safe to say that Trump will eventually use this as the emotional baton with which to try to weaken Harris. She was a winning prosecutor, we shall see if she will be as victorious when it comes to Trump’s efforts to negatively shape her public image in the coming months.