Opinion: WYD, Kamala Harris?
Scott Eisen/Getty Images

On the eve of the third Democratic primary presidential debate held earlier this month in Houston, an unfavorable narrative was beginning to take shape for the candidate whose bragging rights included having both the biggest campaign event and debate moment of the primary season thus far.

According to a report at CNBC, some of Kamala Harris’ top donors acknowledged that if the freshman senator didn’t deliver a stellar debate performance, many of her campaign’s wealthy contributors might take their money elsewhere. A New York banking executive was quoted arguing that Harris had “kind of cratered” while offering the following warning: “She has to prove to people now that she’s still that alternative to Biden. She’s going to have a serious problem on her hands if she can’t do that.”

Similar stories surfaced elsewhere, and while Harris was fine in the debate, there was no breakout moment for Harris akin to what happened at the first debate when she confronted Biden on his history with anti-busing legislation and his expressed fondness for working with segregationists. That arguably has more to do with the current debate structure — too many candidates with no actual chance of winning, too many questions shaped by right-wing talking points to spur reaction rather than substance, no questions on abortion, LGBTQ rights, etc. – than Harris herself.

Still, to the rich person’s warning, hours before Harris took the stage, an adviser described what voters could expect from her: “She is uniquely suited to bring the country together to get things done – and we don’t do that by longing for the past and looking backwards with nostalgia, or by engaging in ideological fights that further divide the country.”

If there is a case to be made about what might not be working for the Kamala Harris for president campaign, look no further than this meaningless statement that speaks to a lack of overarching vision for a politician very much capable of making history three-fold next November.

Now, it’s shrewd of them to portray Joe Biden as the political equivalent of a cat daddy who needs to leave the clubs because his latest shtick – trying to stoke the American electorate’s Happy Days fetish by pretending we can pretend Donald Trump never happened – is not the winning strategy clueless political journalists claim it to be, but ideological fights are the purpose of primaries. And the fact this country is divided is not the problem; it’s that one side of this country has been allowed to think their ideology – framed by the tenets of white nationalism and corporate greed – is on an equal moral footing with others. 

More importantly, we keep hearing that Harris is uniquely suited to bring the country together, and maybe she is, but why and how? 

Simply not being old like Joe Biden or ultra-progressive like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is not the way to sell one’s candidacy. People are debating whether to go with someone they know and feel can best Trump (largely because the television keeps telling them he can until they don’t) or select someone that inspires them with an ideological vision of how government should function. “Pick me, I’m the safe choice” is a losing angle for any candidate who aims to run against a budding fascist drowning us in kakistocracy — much less a Black woman who would be the first of her kind.

In the NBC News piece “As Harris falters, campaign and allies mull next steps,” Campaign spokesman Ian Sams told NBC: “We’re not playing to win a summer news cycle in the off-year. We’re playing to win an election. We’re aiming to peak at the turn of the year when we’re approaching votes — and we’re built to do that.”

Although it is fair to note that summer news cycles in presidential primaries are not the best way to gauge where the final results will go, one could also say that this primary election cycle got more serious a lot sooner than we’re used thanks to cable news and their advertisers, thus, that’s why so many candidates have already dropped out while others frantically ask their supporters to hold $5 or so in order to avoid  having to take their happy selves back home.

So, while this is not an endorsement, I have some unsolicited advice all the same.

For starters, Harris needs to finally confront criticism of her record as a prosecutor directly already. In the weeks leading into the second presidential debate, it was clear that Tulsi Gabbard had her sights set on confronting Harris. Why wasn’t she better prepared for that? Why let a person whose fans include Russian bots and Steve Bannon present the record that way? 

Meanwhile, Harris’ record was directly challenged in January in the New York Times so it’s not as if the word hasn’t gone around that Harris has a vulnerability there. And while Harris is right to bring focus to her criminal justice reform plan, when writing about it for an outlet like Essence, why not directly address the concerns some have about her past as they weigh whether or not to make her the next president? I don’t know how you get skeptics to see you as Olivia Benson-like, but try?

Speaking of policy proposals, what was that student loan forgiveness proposal earlier this year? Yeah, people who have Pell Grants are the disadvantaged, so a $20,000 cancellation to start a new business for at least three years in a “disadvantaged community” is nonsensical. No wonder it was widely panned. Take it from a victim of the private student loan scam, the people drowning want a life raft, not a q-tip.

Nevertheless, not only should we get more serious policy proposals from Harris, we need to hear more policy detail from her in debates. The same goes for a broader theme. Pete Buttigieg is selling himself as a transformative leader from the next generation. Who knew he was so funny, but some people have fallen for it so you know, find your “hope and change” in order to win over you know who to pull auntie away from Joe Biden.

That is if winning is the aim. When I recently read that the Harris campaign is placing greater efforts on organizing in Iowa, I was confused. I may not be an overpaid clueless pundit on television, but didn’t everyone know the only way Harris could win this is by first getting white folks to vote for her in order to convince Black people who know better than to place their futures in the hands of white voters that it was safe to vote for her? Please advise. 

While it is indeed still early, this is giving me the Ciara of politics in that while Ciara keeps a job, she used to be on a level that rivaled her contemporaries like Beyoncé and Rihanna but doesn’t because instead of releasing the music we want from her like “Body Party” and “Goodies,” she’s dropping those sock hop bops no one asked for. I’ve seen Kamala Harris’ playlists, so I bet she knows what I mean, no shade, CiCi. And since my ideology is best described as “Like Dorit Kemsley, I don’t believe in moderation,” this advice isn’t so much about my political preference as it is encouraging someone I think can do better to do just that.

And if none of my other references work for the freshman senator, I’ll leave with this: She went to Howard and you could tell at the beginning, but lately, it’s giving Hampton. 

Good luck, sis.

TOPICS: