Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Choosing Kamala: Identity Politics Intersects with Authenticity

Former Vice President selected first term Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate in his race of the White House.  At the beginning of the 2020 election cycle, Harris was considered one of the top 22 contenders in the Democrat Presidential Primaries.  Harris was a standout in several early televised debates, however Harris folded her campaign in December 2019 before the first primaries due to lack of finances with about 2% support. 

Vice President Biden fulfilled a campaign promise to pick a Black woman to be on the ticket with him. Harris will be hailed by the mainstream media as the first Woman of Color  on a major party Presidential ticket.   Although identity politics seems like a superficial criteria to select a stand in for the most powerful office in the world, that is arguably  what drove this pick.  However, Kamala Harris may not generate as much enthusiasm among African American voters as Barack Obama did in 2008, due to a perceived lack of authenticity to the African American experience. 

Kamala Harris was born in Oakland, California in 1964 to a Tamil (Indian) mother and a Jamaican father, who were both graduate students at University of California Berkeley.  Kamala’s mother chose both her daughter’ names to preserve their Indian cultural identities.  So it would be fair to say that Kamala Harris is also the first Asian woman to be a major party Presidential ticket.  That attribute may not be emphasized as that inconvenient truth may not resonate with a Democrat African American base, which candidate Biden’s is seeking to shore up after a string of repeated verbal blunders, including the infamous “You ain’t black if you don’t vote for me” with Charlamagne tha God on “The Breakfast Club”.

In her own Presidential campaign, Harris has sought to associate herself with the African American experience.  Harris was quick to associate herself the Jussie Smollett faux hate crime in January 2019, which she exploited into pushing  an anti-lynching bill.   Kamala Harris made her mark in the early Democrat Presidential debates by indicting Biden for working with segregationist Senators. 

In fact, Harris implied that frontrunner Joe Biden essentially was a racist for opposing busing, and made it personal by claiming that she was supposedly impacted by that policy decision. This was a calculated attack by Harris on the front runner Biden, as Harris was selling “That Little Girl Was Me” on her campaign website the morning after the viral moment. 

During Harris tenure as California Attorney General from 2011-2017, Harris earned a reputation of aggressively prosecuting marijuana related offenses.  In 2014, Harris laughed at the notion of California legalizing recreational marijuana.  

When it was politically convenient for her, Harris changed her tune on marijuana usage. During her Presidential campaign, Harris gave a light hearted radio interview with “The Breakfast Club” where she claimed that she smoke weed as a student at Howard University listening to Tupac and Snoop Dog.  Two problems with that claim– Those artists had not released their albums at that time and it shows Harris to be a hypocrite with casual marijuana use yet throwing the book at others using recreational marijuana.

 No wonder Harris developed a reputation which prompted influential Detroit African Americans to opine about Kamala Harris: “She’s fake. She’s phony. She’s not one of us.  She built a political career by over-prosecuting Black kids.” 

Aside from the box canyon promise of picking a Black woman, Biden supposedly wanted a running mate with whom he felt comfortable.  Can Kamala be simpatico with Joe after implications that her top of the ticket was racist?  Moreover, Kamala is on record believing the woman who accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. 

Campaigning in the era of COVID-19 relies more heavily on reputation and symbolism than hitting the hustings. With that in mind, it is worth considering how the Biden campaign announced their choice.  The formal public announcement was on Twitter, implying that Biden was modern and comfortable with technology.  Yet the Biden campaign released a photo of Biden in his basement having a Zoom meeting with Kamala Harris giving her the good news.  Note two things from this planned photo.  

Beneath Biden’s phone is a printed text telling the candidate exactly what his script was for the call.  Also note the positioning of Biden’s handset, as he is holding the cell phone upside down. How authentic!