The popular enthusiasm for Kamala Harris isn’t quite as timid as it is for Joe Biden—and one may inquire what on earth could be—but it is almost certainly even more dishonest. Harris embarrassed herself as a presidential candidate, squandering the assiduous support she enjoyed in the corporate press (including an article in Politico that effectively declared her the Democratic Party nominee two years in advance) as well as more than forty million dollars in sponsorship money. The former allowed her to escape scrutiny for her autocratic record as the Californian Attorney General despite Lara Bazelon’s best efforts to expose it; the latter evaporated when Tulsi Gabbard relayed part of this bloodstained history to a broader audience and Harris could not even attempt to answer for it. Officially, she shuttered her campaign in December of last year, but it had been a dilapidated heap for several months since, and she was wise to junk the machinery before it failed to collect a single delegate. Her protracted fall from grace is all the more impressive if we accept her self-description, spoken at the start of her downswing, as a “top-tier candidate”.
None of this reads as the description of a viable vice-presidential nominee, but in the current year, when the will of the people is wholly foreign to the democratic process as well as the government to which it gives rise, perhaps it is appropriate for Harris to stand beside Biden, another byproduct of institutional power, and lead the Democratic Party’s presidential ballot. The Party has just eight weeks more to persuade the electorate, the same electorate that abandoned Harris one year ago, to accept her as the second-best possible shepherd of this weary American flock. When we frame the task in these terms, it actually appears to be pretty straightforward, even feasible. Accordingly, the Party is doing everything in its power—of which it possesses plenty—to complicate this effort. To this end, it has selected the most simplistic of all possible endeavors: to make Kamala Harris even more unlikable than she naturally is.
Harris took several meaningful steps in that direction on Sunday, September 6th, when she chatted at some length with Dana Bash of CNN. Admittedly, I don’t watch CNN as often as I should, as I tend to believe I see enough neoliberal propaganda on Twitter; however, this interview will inspire me to pay more attention to that network in the future, as it presents an uncommonly unobscured view of the world as experienced by the bourgeoisie. Consider Bash, whose ex-husband served as the Chief of Staff not only of the CIA but also of the Department of Defense, walking the ghostly lawns of Howard University and having a cheerful conversation with Harris, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Although they are walking outdoors, completely alone in an environment that has been vacated due to the coronavirus, still they are wearing face masks and maintaining a conspicuous distance. The abundance of messaging, instruction, and fearmongering in the opening frame alone could inspire one to make a dangerous drinking game.
Unfortunately, Harris does not mention drinking, partying, or any debauchery when she reminisces on her “transformative” days at Howard. She speaks of Greek fraternities, student protesting of the Reagan Administration, and her own successful campaign for Freshman Class Representative of the Liberal Arts Student Council. Her memories are replete with nostalgic affection for Howard, an institution that shaped her, she says, “in profound ways”. While she is making a very obvious appeal to the white upper class, who pride themselves on their elitist education, might we consider the economic climate in which she makes such a gesture? According to the most recent estimates, which are badly outdated still, the American student loan debt is rapidly approaching one-and-a-half trillion dollars. Higher education is defined by debt peonage, as was recently explained in one particularly painful testimonial, and this insurmountable burden easily outweighs any pleasurable memories one may have of college. We can’t expect a sympathetic ear from Harris, a woman with a net worth of more than six million dollars and whose husband, Douglass Emhoff, is a corporate lawyer defending Uber in its innumerable violations of federal labor laws; however, her failure, or refusal, to acknowledge the student debt crisis reduces her commentary to vacuity.
Perhaps this is a bourgeois problem, inapplicable to working class voters who have done their best to avoid the university system. If that’s the case, then Harris’s glorification of this system will not charm them. As mentioned previously, there is an inherently elitist element to academia, one that is becoming increasingly indefensible, the more frequently diplomas are considered prerequisites to employment. Do you really learn anything remarkable or awe-inspiring in college, especially in a liberal arts program? This question, asked with perfect justification by the working class, meets with indifference in the Party. Harris may have answered it for the attentive viewer, though, when she describes her time at Howard: “We were in Toni Morrison’s . . . where she wrote . . . you know . . . in that room that we were in.”
We will make one more comment about class, and the Party’s inability to transcend it, before we move on to the interview itself. Dana Bash gives Harris an extended opportunity to speak in praise of her own “modern family”: until I watched this interview, I didn’t know Harris has no biological children of her own, but that she is a stepmother to two girls. None of this means anything to me, just as I have never been interested in her romantic relationship with Willie Brown, but it is notable that the neoliberal press celebrates and exonerates her for these details of her personal life even as it castigates Trump for his multiple divorces. Might this inconsistency fail to impress voters who come from so-called broken homes? A survey on this subject could be quite revealing.
Revealing, too, is Harris’s reflexive refusal to answer a question directly. Anyone who witnessed Harris’s awkward performances in the televised debates, her infamous exchange with Gabbard in particular, could hardly expect anything but obfuscation and evasion in her interview with Bash, but even I did not expect anything as pusillanimous as this. Bash begins by asking her if she would “trust” a coronavirus vaccine if it were produced by the Trump Administration, but she had to ask the question four times in four different wordings before Harris said she would not. You will notice that she does not say she would refuse to take this vaccine if it were available and required by law, but only that she would not “trust” it. Certainly, we should criticize Bash for asking such a murky question, but only after we overcome our own surprise that she pressured Harris to answer it in the first place.
On the subject of mandatory vaccinations for children enrolled in public schools, Bash had to ask Harris twice before receiving a simple answer: “I will listen to the public health experts and hear what they have to say.” While her technocratic take ostensibly opens the door to the possibility of voluntary vaccinations, it is only a veiled promise to the medical-industrial establishment that she will do their bidding—and, if her prosecutorial record is any indication, to empower them with the resources of the authoritarian state. “When we start breaking down different populations,” she said, “there has to be an overall plan that thinks about [and] will administer vaccines to those who have been hardest hit, who are most vulnerable and most in need.” One cannot read this without recalling her proposal to prosecute the parents of truant children—or, perhaps, the Gates Foundation’s plan to test the coronavirus vaccine on the Africans.
Even if Harris were to speak against mandatory vaccinations, she would do so on strictly partisan lines. As she explained to Bash, “one of the issues … about whether people are actually vaccinated is whether there’s a national plan. Joe Biden and I have a plan, a national plan. Donald Trump does not.” Concordant with her dishonest concerns about the vaccine itself, she is uninterested in asking why we are developing these policies and programs, preferring to focus on the people in charge. When Bash asked Harris if she had confidence in Anthony Fauci, who has been less than consistent in his approach to the coronavirus, the vice-presidential nominee immediately said: “Dr. Fauci has proven to anyone who’s been watching him for years and years to put the public health of the American people as the highest priority in terms of his work and his reputation and his priority. Yes, I trust Dr. Fauci.” Her rather prolix statement demonstrates her loyalty, already beyond doubt, to the medical-industrial establishment, the authoritarian state, and to a number of other institutions besides. Much like the presidential debates, this interview, distributed by one of the many arms of Warner Media, is less about the free exchange of ideas than the propagandistic defense of powerful people.
The strength of that defense is coming into question. Perhaps because I watch such little CNN, I was not aware that the network’s interviewers and commentators were permitted to acknowledge the hypocrisy of prominent Democrats, but Bash contrasted Harris’s call in 2009 to hire and train more police officers with her current claims that doing so will not “increase safety”. Harris replied in characteristically dizzying fashion, producing a non sequitur of frightening proportions, a large chunk of which I challenge you to read:
“I am very clear that we have got to, in America, reimagine how we are accomplishing public safety. What I believe now and what I believed then remains very consistent, which is: if you look at the communities that have no or very little police presence as compared to those who have a high degree of police presence, you will see stark differences, and one of them is this: if you go into any upper-class suburb in America, you will not see police presence, but what you will see are well-funded public schools, high rates of home ownership, small businesses that have access to capital …”
None of this answered the question, of course, and when Bash pressed Harris for clarity, she said she wants to ensure that police officers are “available”. We who assess the perfidy of establishment propaganda daily have long since learned to see through Harris’s smoggy equivocation, but what about the sixty million Americans who will vote for her presidential ticket in November? Do they notice that she is reluctant, even frightened, to answer the question? If so, then it would be difficult for them to support her, presumably, to believe in her political integrity. If not, then why do they lack the cognitive ability to listen to her statement, compare it to Bash’s question, and apprehend the dissonance? Are they ignorant of her many wrongdoings, some of them almost murderous, as Attorney General? And if they are unaware of this unsettling information, then should we assume they didn’t grimace when she said of Kenosha, “We have to agree that we can’t have a system that does not have accountability and consequence for everyone who breaks the rules and the law”?
Harris is not the only politician to prey on an oblivious electorate, but her exploitative dishonesty is remarkably cynical. We need not recount the details of her belligerent crusade against vulnerable blacks in California, details that become all the more repulsive when considered in the light of her vocal support for the Black Lives Matter phenomenon; however, we must bear them in mind when she complains to Bash of racism embedded in the American legal system. For her, it is a problem worthy of complaint, but only because she can blame it on William Barr, a political opponent. As an aside, neither Harris nor Bash mentions anything about reducing the prison population, thereby raising questions about the substance of any policing reform. Some of those questions have already been answered in an essay written by Alexander Sammon, in which Harris’s illegal fight to expand the Californian prison population is put on stark display. With Biden, an architect of the notorious Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, joining Harris on the Party ticket, it is beyond my powers of comprehension as to how Trump could run as the “Law and Order” candidate.
The corporate media has accepted this characterization and has depicted Harris as a “progressive prosecutor” in a desperate attempt to strengthen her appeal. Hitherto, the electorate have responded with disinterest, a disinterest that mirrors my own: she intrigues me only as one of the few former Democratic Party presidential candidates whom I did not question on the subject of Assange. There has never been any doubt in my mind that she would call for his prosecution, nor should there be after she told Bash that “theoretically, of course” the Russian government could somehow “cost” her the White House. “We have what happened in 2016,” she said, “which is foreign interference,” presumably referring to WikiLeaks’s devastating exposure of the Party’s systemic corruption. “We have a president who is trying to convince the American people not to believe in the integrity of our election system and compromise their belief that their vote might actually count.” Amusingly, she fails to observe her own contradiction, one that is becoming increasingly common in neoliberal circles as their prospects in the general election diminish.
With my infamous Assange question having been effectively answered in this interview, I suppose there is no more reason for me to take even the vaguest interest in Harris. She said everything she needed to say, about herself and about her hopeless ideology, in a forgettable interview with a forgettable pseudo-journalist in the last stages of a forgettable presidential campaign. It is difficult, but certainly not impossible, to imagine the electorate watching that interview and believing they have listened to a worthwhile vice-presidential nominee, but if their disinterest hasn’t vanquished her candidacy yet, then perhaps not even an election will.