In a recent New York Times profile of freshman California Senator Kamala Harris, her colleague and the senior senator representing the state — Dianne Feinstein — made a curious comment in response to a question about Harris’ future as a national figure.
“She just got here,” Feinstein explained though she did reportedly speak warmly of Harris, noting that she was “on the way to becoming” a good friend. Still, it’s a curious statement given the current president of the United States is a businessman whose fortune was amassed through real estate, licensing his name to just about any product presented before him, reality television, and questionable universities. Not to mention his predecessor was formally a one-term U.S. senator and Illinois state senator.
How much is tenure really worth anymore?
The piece itself is a measured look at Harris’ short but already headline-grabbing stint as senator with fans and critics alike having their say, but Feinstein’s reaction makes me weary as it comes on the heels of other political pieces that stick to the status quo: white guys and all of their potential. While former Missouri Senate candidate Jason Kander released an incredible campaign ad last year and has successfully managed to be pegged as a political star despite not holding elected office, his recent Washington Post profile touches on the 2020 question without the not so subtle invocation of “wait your turn.”
Then there was the Vox piece “Bernie Sanders is the Democrats’ real 2020 frontrunner.” Vox writer Matthew Yglesias makes a case for Sanders that evades one important tidbit on why he lost in 2016: the Black vote. Yglesias is right in that Sanders is incredibly popular, is learning to moderate, and is continuing to outline a message that resonates with millions. However, Sanders will be almost 80 in 2020, is still not a Democrat, and most of all, will face the same dilemma that thwarted his incredibly impressive but nonetheless failed presidential bid: his failure to connect with Black voters (especially Black women). That issue is not mentioned in Yglesias’ essay, and when answering the question, “If not him, who?,” there is a Black woman mentioned (Nina Turner), but in the context of who is another beloved figure outside of the Bernie fold outside of Sanders himself.
The New York Times profile on Harris also uses Sanders supporters as some sort of quantifier of success. RoseAnn DeMoro, who is categorized as a “Sanders ally” and serves as the executive director of National Nurses United and the California Nurses Association, had this to say about Harris: “She’s not on our radar. She’s one of the people the Democratic Party is putting up. In terms of where the progressives live, I don’t think there’s any ‘there’ there.”
Well, who the Democratic Party collectively warms to ought to matter in the case of a future Democratic presidential primary, but in this instance, Harris was not propped up by Democrats. She made her own mark aggressively challenging 45’s nominees during various confirmation hearings — to the irritation of several old White Republican male senators who tried to silence her. And when it comes to where progressives live, uh, which ones are she referring to? The white ones?
Okay, but they don’t make the party. See the results of the last primary.
Of course, there was also that terribly penned op-ed by Mark Penn, the former campaign manager of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign. It’s best summed as: White is right, trans issues that Republicans bring up and lose on are somehow still a deterrent to Democrats winning, centrism is it even if it clearly is not in 2017, and I’m still wrong about every single thing. That aside, the name Mark Penn does make one chuckle because a certain Black senator who many Democrats thought ought to wait his turn managed to somehow bypass the then most powerful Democrat at the time.
The Democratic Party cannot win without Black people, and specifically, Black women. If Black people are presented a Black female candidate with a plausible chance at becoming president, why wouldn’t they vote for her? And if that woman happens to be Kamala Harris, why should she wait? Although it is too early to know for sure if Harris will take her rising stardom and pursue a presidential campaign, as it stands now, she has as great a shot if not more than many of the White male names being floated around.
She should be treated as such moving forward.