Kamala Harris Postmortem: The Neoliberal Dirge


Imagine my good fortune, discovering Joy Reid’s bizarre presentation on the inspiring strength—and tragic victimization—of Kamala Harris on Monday, December the 2nd. In a baffling dialogue with several faithful spokespersons for the establishment, Reid insisted that Harris’s presidential campaign was far from finished and scolded her competitors in the corporate media for penning Harris’s “obituaries” prematurely. As we have come to learn, they were delivered just a few days early, for Harris has quit her battle for the powers of the presidency. While I seldom indulge in the pleasures of sadism and schadenfreude, I can make an exception in this case, relishing the national humiliation of a right-wing authoritarian disguised as an Aunt Tammy, one who had sent innocent people of color to death row and who would have allowed our military to murder innocent people of color overseas. If my delight in her political and personal devastation is uncouth, then consider it an antidote to the tasteless toxicity of the lachrymose eulogies delivered in the press.

We will change the channel from MSNBC and turn to CNN, where Kyung Lah could not conceal her own heartbreak. Reflecting wistfully on the righteous “hope and promise” of the lost campaign, she described Harris as the destined redeemer, one who would deliver the progressives to the land of justice and splendor. She saw her as “somebody who represents the coalition, the candidate who potentially could string together black voters, college educated women, potentially the working class, left and right.” A broader organization of Americans I can’t imagine, but Lah does not define the constituency as such. Rather, she begins with the reflection and works her way backwards: “What the Democrats were looking for was someone who looked like them.”

In a single sentence, the entire intellectual power of progressivism is reduced to an expectation of appearance! We don’t care about who the candidate is, or what she stands for, or what she resents; we care only about what she looks like. Now, it would be reckless and crass, not to mention nakedly racist, to accuse left-wing voters of harboring such shallow sentiment collectively, but isn’t it time for us to acknowledge the predatory tendency of the neoliberal media to exploit the superficiality of identity politics? The commentators of cable news commend their consumers for trusting Harris, even in the midst of overwhelming proof of her moral rot. These viewers were ordered to maintain their faith, not because of anything Harris ever did, but because she “looked like” them—or, if the viewers were white, then she “looked like” something wholesome.

With the exception of her hue, Lah neglects to define Harris’s virtues, but she is happy to identify her tragic flaw: generosity. “It really came down to the money,” she laments. “She just couldn’t afford to pay her staffers … She doesn’t have billions of dollars to finance her own campaign. She relied on the donations of supporters and that money simply wasn’t coming in swiftly enough.” I wasn’t aware that candidates need “billions of dollars” to campaign for their party’s nomination, nor was I aware that Harris was too principled to accept corporate funding. Did she take this stance after she accepted donations from Trump? Perhaps it wasn’t until she was caught accepting money from the pharmaceutical industries? It would be a difficult task to list all of Harris’s faults, but did anyone expect to number among them an aversion to financial entanglement?


When Lah released the last of her moans, Van Jones stepped in to continue the dirge. Jones is one of the most consistently melodramatic actors employed by CNN, having delivered an unforgettable monologue about the parents who were “scared of breakfast” in 2016. In accord with his diagnosis of racism as the primary cause of Trump’s electoral victory, he sees in bigotry the fatal element of Harris’s defeat. “You have a Democratic Party that has a core and a backbone and that backbone is black women … And yet, the only African American woman pounding on that door, pounding on that glass ceiling, is now out … It hurts because we have not had a black woman be able to get all the way there.” Personally, I couldn’t listen to his lugubrious comments without thinking back to Reid, who scolded not only white Americans, but Americans of color also, for believing Harris to be a cynical opportunist who hoped her black visage would obscure her record of prosecutorial aggression.


However, Jones surpasses even her most forgiving loyalist when he insists that “she had some of the strongest debate moments”. A viewer of all the masochistic Democratic debates fails to recall more than a handful of moments, strong or otherwise, but when did Harris last exhibit strength on that stage? When she confronted Joe Biden for his record on busing? Hard as it may be to believe, that happened almost six months ago, and Harris has been utterly forgettable, even by the corporate media’s standards, since. Much has been made of her bushwhacking at the hands of Tulsi Gabbard, but little has been made of her shockingly feeble rebuttal—least of all her angry complaint of “fancy speeches”, which was probably the most embarrassing incident in a presidential debate since Rick Perry’s amnesiac episode in 2011.

In the end, Jones returns to Lah’s favorited leitmotif: benevolence to the point of self-sacrifice. “I think it’s a high-integrity move on her part,” he says, speaking of Harris abandoning the race. “She doesn’t want to drag her staff forward when there’s not enough money to help them pay their bills. But it hurts because we have not had a black woman be able to get all the way there.” I can tolerate this kind of hagiography to an extent, but Jones commits a crime against taste when he compares Harris to Shirley Chisholm. We lack the space to examine the differences between these two, but in comparing a United States Senator who enjoyed unmitigated corporate and media support to a legitimate political outsider who encountered seriously racist and sexist opposition, Jones exposes his own bigotry, historical ignorance, and elitist naivete—all in one cataclysmic blunder.

Such is an adequate description of CNN, MSNBC, and all of the other outlets of neoliberal media: privileged and powerful people muttering about identity politics and indignantly scolding anyone who doesn’t buy their overpriced product. Harris was not only one of those privileged and powerful people, but an overpriced product, too. Tulsi Gabbard broke her, and now Jones, Lah, Reid, and the rest have to sweep up the pieces. It’s a welcome arrangement. Let’s do it again sometime.


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