Last month, Kamala Harris started to speak on her record as a California prosecutor as more of an asset than a liability. While I’m wary of media narratives speaking of campaign “reboots” for campaigns that launched mere months ago this early into primary season, Harris’ shift is somewhat of a reset.
In Detroit, she reportedly centered her stump speeches on the themes of “truth” and “justice,” portraying herself as a staunch public advocate who would take a more confrontational approach with the lawless Trump administration. Around the same time those speeches were delivered, she had gone viral for her interrogation of Attorney General William Barr. In early June, Harris vowed to “prosecute the case” against President Trump at an Iowa Democratic Party Hall of Fame event, and while campaigning in South Carolina, made this quip about Trump and the ever-expanding list of grievances against him: “I’ve prosecuted a lot of cases, but rarely one with this much evidence.”
However, it is the comment Harris made in an interview on the NPR Politics Podcast that has drawn criticism amid concerns that she might have gone too far. There Harris claimed that should she be elected president, her administration’s Department of Justice would likely pursue obstruction of justice charges against a former President Trump. “I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes,” Harris explained. “There has to be accountability.”
She went on to add: “I mean look, people might, you know, question why I became a prosecutor. Well, I’ll tell you one of the reasons — I believe there should be accountability. Everyone should be held accountable, and the president is not above the law.”
In the “Memo to Democrats: Stop Talking About Prosecuting Trump,” Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes argued, “Kamala Harris taught a master class this week in how not to address the question of accountability for President Trump.” He didn’t care too much for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reportedly saying she wanted to see him jailed either. On Harris specifically, though, Wittes goes on to sarcastically write, “She refrained from chanting, ‘Lock Him Up!’ —for which I suppose we should be grateful.”
Had Harris done so, I would have promptly joined in. Actually, I suggest a call and response given the demo. “When I say ‘lock him,’ you say ‘up.’ ‘Lock him…up. Lock him…up.’” Sorry, I’ve just been listening to Megan Thee Stallion’s “W.A.B.” and mixed the chant with the beat. My apologies, respectful Negroes reading.
In any event, as one might expect, Wittes’ assessment on Harris’ proclamation is prefaced on an idea of America that doesn’t exist to many with natural, permanent tans.
“But declaring someone guilty of crimes, as Pelosi reportedly did, and saying that as president you would supervise that person’s prosecution, as Harris did, is poisonous stuff in a democracy that cares about apolitical law enforcement,” Wittes writes. “It’s poisonous to a society that believes in a presumption of innocence.”
I would laugh at the idea of an “apolitical law enforcement” existing on this planet much less in America if I didn’t have to also potentially worry being shot dead by a racist, trigger happy cop at any city or town near you. In the meantime, someone should hip Wittes to the racist roots of U.S. policing and encourage him to direct that sanctimony where it may serve a better fit. Say, the folks in law enforcement just revealed to be belonging to hate groups on Facebook.
Meanwhile, someone ought to warn Pete Buttigieg that it may not be in his best interest to misrepresent Harris’ comments as it now gives way to him potentially being verbally sliced and diced at a looming presidential debate. All I could hear after watching this clip was Nicki Minaj’s opening lines on “Motorsport.” But Happy Pride, Mayor Pete.
Even so, while some might not agree with Harris’ comments about likely prosecuting someone who is only not being currently prosecuted because of their job after they no longer have it, in terms of strategy, this makes sense for Harris. Donald Trump is a serially accused sexual assaulter who has reportedly broken the law both in terms of tax law, and as those who either read The Mueller Report, skimmed it, or watched Rachel Maddow break it down, have learned, obstructed justice. By comparison, Kamala Harris is the former district attorney of San Francisco and former attorney general of California.
That is not a defense of her record in each position. Her record is categorized as controversial for good reason and it is up to her to prove to the public whether or not she warrants the label “progressive prosecutor” as advertised. But, in terms of optics, why wouldn’t she run with the juxtaposition of prosecutor versus criminal?
I don’t know what Nancy Pelosi is babbling about when she shimmies and shakes away from her duties as Speaker of the House – including launching an inquiry of Sweet Potato Saddam, the antithesis of a smooth criminal – but I do know Harris has the ability to speak to an anger many Democrats have towards a man who treats the law as his personal wipe while categorizing others – Black people, Muslims, migrants – as criminals.
Why wouldn’t she take a more forceful approach against him? Was the Trump campaign not already trying to portray Joe Biden as a person worthy of prosecution over work his son Hunter Biden did in the Ukraine? (My advice on Biden has not changed, but you get it.) At least in Harris’ case, she’s speaking on something that’s supported by fact.
The people who express discomfort with Harris’ stance are the people who cling to an image of a country that never existed and should have been dead and buried after Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential race.
I know a lot of white folks love to dabble in both-sides banter, but it’s usually an exercise in stupidity and futility. This is especially true in the case of Trump. He’s a criminal; he obstructed justice. Kamala Harris ought to seize upon that and feed a base desperate to see this man finally face real consequences for his actions.
Those who feel otherwise are a bot or a Biden supporter — and if Kamala Harris knows what’s good for her, she’ll tune their voices out.
Michael Arceneaux is The New York Times best-selling author of I Can’t Date Jesus.