It’s been over two weeks since the Democratic debates in Florida and the nation is still reeling. Attention has not come off the candidates’ wins, losses, and scandals for a single second. The puff pieces and local news health broadcasts have practically nowhere to go. A “winner” of the second Democratic debate was US Senator Kamala Harris. The media and her supporters praised her take-down of Joe Biden and her stellar performance on the evening of the debate. Harris’ supporters think of her as a perfect progressive candidate in support of all the standard and fringe left economic and social issues.
Kamala Harris advertises herself as a supporter of LGBT people, women, and minorities. She stands behind a fairly standard set of Democratic talking points which haven’t shifted in nearly a decade. On the campaign trail, she’s made herself popular with all her targeted demographics. Indeed, for California voters, Harris is a favorite among the LGBT community. During pride month, she sported a bedazzled rainbow jacket on the stage of the San Francisco pride event. This, while she gave a speech voicing her support for gay and trans rights — as well as a push for her presidency.
Harris supports the banning of “assault weapons” (not an established firearm category). She supports free college and plans for a wealth tax, she opposed the border wall, and she opposed anti-abortion legislation. She looks an awful lot like a progressive’s dream. Harris is polling at around 15%, behind Biden and Sanders due likely to not only her recognisability but her popular stances. She is also finding a disproportionate amount of support among young people and a certain sect of the former Obama crowd. However, in reference to LGBT and race issues, Harris isn’t as progressive as she seems.
Kamala Harris Backtracks
Back in January, Harris spoke against a move to fund the gender confirmation surgery of California inmates. She’s stood by this action saying that trans issues need to be “better understood”. This decision seems to escape the attention of many LGBT news organizations and more importantly, her LGBT voters. Now, it’s important to understand that the disagreement with this one bill does not negate all of her history as a candidate standing in line with progressive or democratic values. The proposed spending could’ve been poorly worded or taken funds away from more necessary programs.
However, what the real denial illustrates less, and what its media coverage illustrates more, is the willingness to ignore “unsavory” or divergent opinions in upheld Democratic candidates. The truth is, as far as modern and mainstream politicians go, Kamala Harris is a progressive candidate. By and large, she does support the issues gay, trans, black, and latino people care about — just, not as much as she puts on. The issue is dually how Democratic voters expect their candidates to be perfect and how many are actually far from what they advertise.
The Harms of False Perfection
First, this makes decent democratic candidates “unelectable” for different factions of the voting population. Secondly, as a result of this, candidates which in reality fit very few classical Democratic ideals are able to exploit the profitability of the party. Democrats occupy most media, most news, and most areas of the mainstream political conversation. They have a lot of reach, and if a politician can appear progressive or in adherence to Democratic values, they’re much more likely to get their message across.
This is how we get candidates like Joe Biden, who is the current Democratic favorite across the demographic board. While the Democrats to his sides at the debate harped on immigration, gun issues, and bussing of all things, Biden described his plans for “immigration reform”. This reform would change almost nothing and is just so-so enough to get most old-world democrats on board. The most Democratic thing about Joe Biden is his hatred for Trump and his affiliation with Obama. These are two very underwhelming qualifications for a progressive to tout. Indeed, even in his younger political days, his “progressive” opinions were by no means fresh– especially in comparison to people like Bernie Sanders. Biden even sponsored a number of regressive bills that put hundreds of thousands of people behind bars.
Joe Biden is genuinely not a progressive in any way shape or form. He’s a centrist at most and a maverick-ish Republican at least. A “Republican-Lite” if you will. He’s able to pose this way because he has a great deal of personality within the party. He has such a powerful association with Obama, a “play-it-safe progressive”, that it wins him extra points with the establishment.
Is Kamala Harris Just Like Biden?
Candidates like Biden arouse suspicion around other candidate’s Democratic values. His existence and excusability in the Democratic Party regardless of his real history as a politician causes a knowing of betrayal among its members. However, the thought process is that someone so consistently trusted as Joe Biden cannot possibly be the culprit. So, the blame falls on the heads of lesser-known candidates or candidates with less history. Candidates like Harris, Buttigieg, and Yang are assumed to be the candidates with a nefarious progressive disguise.
Kamala Harris is arguably a lot more similar to Joe Biden than any other Democratic candidate. This being said, she is still quite different from him. She is a true, however unproductive, Democratic centrist. She puts on a false mask of puritanical progressivism that doesn’t make her much more radical. What really harms her, and what harms other candidates, is the impression of a need for such a mask. It is when her own supporters and the supporters of her competition come across cracks in this facade that really hurts Harris and company.
She clings to the likeness of an image she does not have the power to escape.
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