There is one reason and one reason only why Sen. Kamala Harris made a big splash when she declared her candidacy for president in January and then shrunk in a crowded field since then:
Harris is not who she presents herself to be.
And that realization tends to dawn on people after she exhausts her talking points and must demonstrate more than being telegenic and effusive.
Harris looks dazzling at first sight. She has a great personal story. She’s been wildly successful in her career at every step of the way.
But Harris’ story of who she really is eventually douses cold water on the hot flames of emotion that she is trying to inspire in Democratic voters. Her record as San Francisco’s District Attorney and California’s Attorney General are at odds with her candidacy for the Democratic nomination.
This was plainly obvious before she arrived in San Francisco, her town, to try to distinguish herself at the state Democratic Convention this weekend. She arrives not as a face of the Democratic franchise but as a face in the crowd.
OK, it’s still really early in the process of selecting a Democratic nominee. That’s fair enough and it’s obviously too early to count Harris out of anything before candidate debates even begin.
But it’s not too early to wonder how Harris can reconcile who she has always been with who she wants to be. It’s not too early to wonder whether her prior decisions – or cop outs – will undo her ambition to win the Democratic nomination and challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 general election.
To begin with, Harris is not a progressive, and anyone who says she is probably is on her payroll. California’s Legislature is trying to place unprecedented controls on law enforcement and the elephant in the Democratic primary is not Trump. It’s Harris’ record as state attorney general.
What can we say about that record except that it is not in the spirit of legislation seeking to restrict use of force by police and bills to stop rogue cops like Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones from abusing their authority.
As AG, Harris was always deferential to cops and other prosecutors. She was as reluctant to prosecute cops as the current occupant of the AG job, Xavier Becerra.
We get it: Police unions contribute lots of money to political campaigns. So do any number of law enforcement organizations who form a special interest group as formidable as there is in California. Becerra is deferential to this interest group as well, a sign that ethnicity politics don’t fly cop land.
Becerra and Harris know that Latino and African American men are overrepresented as victims of police involved shootings. But, in their worlds, being a Latino like Becerra or biracial like Harris, whose mother was Indian and father was African American, matter less. The only color that matters in law enforcement is blue.
This remains one of the serious civil rights issues of our time. Kamala Harris didn’t just sit it out as AG. She was on the opposing side from advocates who have risked their safety to take to the streets and pressure state legislators to take on law enforcement special interests.
As ever, Harris tries to walk a fine line between constituencies. She says that it’s a “false choice” either be for law enforcement reform or to support law enforcement.
It is a false choice. But what Harris never says is that it’s often the cops who call people “anti-cop” if they push for more accountability in cops. I don’t fault Harris for being a prosecutor of color trying to get things done in an industry in which the vast majority of prosecutors are white. No one would have expected her to be a kamikaze pilot with her career.
But she, like Becerra, had the bully pulpit of a statewide office. She was elected by voters, not law enforcement colleagues. So maybe – maybe – if she had used that bully pulpit to speak clearly to those demanding more accountability from cops, her declarations of being a progressive would hold more water more.
Harris doesn’t have strong policy views like Elizabeth Warren.
She doesn’t represent a more progressive generation of voters like South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
She doesn’t have the national standing of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.
So, who is Kamala Harris besides a sparkling resume and stump speech? It’s not too early to expect an answer.