I was going to delay writing this article for a couple of months since I wanted to see how the Democratic primaries played out. But after watching the performance by Kamala Harris during the first Democratic debates, I decided to move up the schedule. I am no big fan of Joe Biden, but the race-baiting stunt that Harris performed struck me as symbolizing everything that is wrong about not just her, but also certain aspects of the Democratic party and the “progressive” blogosphere. But before we get to that, let us sketch in some of the background on Harris.
Harris was born in 1964. After her parents divorced, her mother moved the children to Canada. She graduated from high school there and went to Howard University for her BA degree. She moved to California to attend law school at the University of California, Hastings. She graduated in 1989. She served as an assistant DA in Alameda County, before joining the City Attorney’s office in San Francisco. In 2003 she won the election to be the DA of the City and County of San Francisco. In 2010 she defeated Steve Cooley for the office of California Attorney General. She was reelected in 2014. In 2016, she ran for the Senate when Democrat Barbra Boxer declined to run again. After only two years in Washington, she has now decided to run for president.
Since she has held elected office for over 15 years, many of them in law enforcement, Harris has a record that people can review and discuss. And it is worth reviewing. There are many indications that, after the disappointment of Barack Obama, the uninspiring campaign of Hillary Clinton, and the extraordinarily regressive presidency of Donald Trump, the American electorate is more “liberal” now than at any time since the inauguration of John Kennedy. Perhaps even more so than in 1961. In my view, this has helped elect people like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley. It almost allowed Beto O’Rourke to defeat Ted Cruz in Texas.
Most remarkable is that it has produced a wave of upsets in District Attorney’s offices throughout the land. These new DA’s have almost all pledged to reassess traditional patterns of resource management in criminal trials. This is a long overdue approach which many legal scholars have recommended. The idea is rather simple: candidates have pledged to go softer on victimless crimes so they can spend more resources on violent crime. Some of the attorneys who won using this platform are Rachael Rollins in Boston, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti in Arlington, Virginia, and perhaps most stunningly—if her lead holds up—Tiffany Caban in Queens. Many of these candidates have been supported by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). That new and powerful lobbying group counts as its members people like Alexandria Oscasio Cortez, George Soros and film director Adam McKay.
The DSA was founded in its present form by Michael Harrington and Barbara Ehrenreich. Today it has over 50,000 members. Most observers consider that growing membership to be a reaction to the Trump presidency. Cortez and Tlaib were members of the DSA. The DSA began to rise due to its backing of Bernie Sanders in 2016 and its refusal to back Hillary Clinton after she became the Democratic nominee. In 2017, the DSA won 15 offices nationwide. In 2018, for the first time, they began to run several candidates for national and gubernatorial office. The DSA is probably the most progressive lobbying/political group to emerge since the decimation of the Henry Wallace Left in the fifties due to the second Red Scare. To me this is an important, perhaps a key political development of recent times.
In that regard it should be noted that, in February of this year, in New Hampshire, Harris specifically stated, “I am not a Democratic Socialist.” (See The Hill, February 19, 2019, story by Rachel Frazin). If one goes over to the site called Open Secrets, which lists political contributions to major political candidates, one can see why she would go out of her way to say something like that, thereby differentiating herself from people like Cortez. Since she lives in California, some of her big contributors are 21st Century Fox, WarnerMedia Group and Creative Artists Agency. She is also backed by the giants of high tech: Google (through their subsidiary of Alphabet), Cisco, and Apple. The gravy train would not keep humming if she declared sisterhood with Cortez and company. And from that declaration one can also see that Harris is not really an advocate for any real structural change. With her, these mega monopolies do not have any real dread of being broken up, no matter how massive their domination of markets are or will be. Which is, in my view, a revealing trait for a former Attorney General who bills herself as a champion of the people. In fact, when she declared her candidacy for president in Oakland, she said she went into the DA’s office because she knew that there were predators out there who often targeted the voiceless and vulnerable. (Yahoo News, 3/18/19, story by Alexander Nazaryan)
In that regard, it is interesting to note how Harris approached a major nutritional company called Herbalife while she was AG in California. In 2015, she was sent a long memorandum from prosecutors in San Diego who requested that she begin an inquiry into this company based upon evidence developed elsewhere. After that letter had been sent to her office, Harris began getting donations to run for the Senate from the Podesta family. As many know, that family has been a mainstay of the Democratic party and Hillary Clinton for years. Both Tony Podesta and his former wife Heather worked for that company as lobbyists. (See Nazaryan story)
Herbalife was actually being investigated by the FTC for several months before Harris got the memo from San Diego. There was also an activist group opposed to Herbalife in Chicago that sharply attacked the company for preying on the Latino community. Their nickname for Harris is a play on her first name, Que Maia, which translates into “How bad.” (Nazaryan). Many critics have gone after Herbalife since they see it as a disguised pyramid scheme in the form of multi-level marketing. The marketers quickly find out that the pills sold by the company are worthless, so to salvage their investment they have to recruit others into the scheme. In addition to the Podestas, another reason Harris may have passed on a lawsuit against the company is their employment of Michael Johnson as CEO. Johnson worked for Disney, another big contributor to Harris’ campaigns.
Herbalife was so bad in its business practices that it was being investigated in Illinois and in the state of New York. The FBI began an investigation in 2014. There may have been another facet to the problem. The law firm representing Herbalife employed Harris’ husband. (Nazaryan)
In another example of seeming favoritism, Harris likes to talk about the cases she filed and reached settlements with on mortgage fraud. But in the case of OneWest bank, her investigators found over a thousand cases which they thought were worthy of prosecution. And they thought they could come up with many more. But Harris declined the case. Harris received a donation from the wife of the CEO. In 2016, she was in receipt of the only donation the CEO made to a Democrat. That CEO was Steve Mnuchin who went on to become Trump’s Secretary of Treasury. (See Huffington Post, August 3, 2017, article by Jesse Mechanic)
As everyone knows the whole concept of immigration and sanctuary cities has been made a huge issue by the draconian policies of the present administration. Representatives from DSA like Cortez have gone as far as to propose abolishing ICE. Under President Obama the level of deportations had risen to levels not seen in a half century. (Huffington Post, 6/18/2019, story by Roque Planas). Since California has so many people crossing the border illegally, there were many Hispanic activist groups who disagreed with Obama’s policy. They decided to pass a bill called the Trust Act over Obama’s objections. This bill was a way to limit cooperation with ICE at the state level. In fact, before she became California AG, as DA, she supported a city policy in San Francisco that required police to turn over undocumented juvenile immigrants to federal authorities if they were arrested, “regardless of whether or not they were actually convicted of a crime.” (CNN story of February 11, 2019 by Nathan McDermott and Andrew Kaczynski) This reversed the city’s status as a sanctuary city.
According to its backers, although they tried to get Harris to back their bill, in the three-year travail they undertook, Harris sat it out. In fact, her office deemed the act too expensive to enforce. (See Planas). Backers of the bill, which eventually passed, designed it as limiting local authorities’ cooperation with ICE. They viewed Harris’ neutrality as her way to avoid conflict with Obama. David Campos, one of the strongest promoters of the bill, said, “Kamala was always seen as a very law and order type who was not very supportive of pro-immigrant legislation. At the best, she was not involved and at the worst, she opposed.” As Professor Kevin Johnson has said about her, “I think she was seeing where the state was going to go, instead of being a trailblazer on the issue.” Another backer of the bill, Tom Ammiano, has been even stronger on Harris and this issue. He has said that, with Trump as president, it is now easier for the Democrats to support sanctuary cities, “because he’s so extreme that you can confront him. But in those days, it was lack of political will. She was cautious. And sometimes in politics, you have to be inspirational.” (See Planas)
In fact, as another law professor, Lara Bazelon, has written, although “progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent.” (New York Times, January 17, 2019). According to Bazelon, Harris even fought to uphold wrongful convictions. Even when these had been attained through false testimony and/or tampering with evidence. This included having a technician in her police laboratory who sabotaged cases. Harris stood by the employee and criticized the judge who condemned Harris’ refusal to reopen those cases. Harris lost the appeal. As Attorney General, she appealed a judge’s ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional. She actually made a statement saying that this decision “undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants.” (NYT, 01/17/19). In 2014, Harris refused to take a position on Proposition 47, an initiative approved by the electorate that reduced low level felonies to misdemeanors—which is partly what DSA candidates are running on. She was against the recreational use of marijuana. But when public opinion shifted so hard against her in 2018, she changed course on the issue. (NYT, 01/17/19)
Harris opposed a bill in 2015 requiring her office to investigate police officer shootings. She did not support statewide standards regulating use of body-worn cameras by officers. But as Bazelon writes, the worst thing about Harris is her refusal to reopen cases where it has been demonstrated that the defendant suffered a miscarriage of justice. In the Kevin Cooper case, the defendant sought advanced DNA testing to demonstrate his innocence. Harris opposed the motion. It was only when the case became a cause célèbre that she relented. (NYT 01/17/19). She even defended a Kern county prosecutor who falsified a confession of a defendant that was later used to threaten a life sentence. (The Guardian, January 27, 2019, story by Shanita Hubbard)
To this author, and to many others, the record of Kamala Harris seems to exemplify not a DSA candidate like Rollins or Caban, but a tough-on-crime Democrat who will do just about anything to protect her right flank. In other words, in the age of AOC and Bernie Sanders, she reminds many of the unlamented politics of Bill and Hillary Clinton. This brings us to three key subjects: her “war on truancy”, her attacks on Joe Biden at the first Democratic debate, and her refusal to reopen the Robert Kennedy murder case.
As AG, Harris decided to champion a bill that could lead to the arrest of the parents of students who missed more than 10% of a school year without a valid excuse. Not only did she champion and enforce this law, she did what she could to get wide coverage of her employees making arrests of the parents of the truant kids. As one parent said upon her arrest, there were so many cameras and reporters there that she felt like she had committed homicide. (Huffington Post, story of 3/27/19, by Molly Redden). The problem was that her office did not do the proper legwork to determine the causes of the truancy before they made the arrests. For instance, in one instance, the child had a severe case of sickle cell anemia which necessitated unpredictable absences from school and also special education aids. At the time of the mother’s arrest, she was arguing with the school over the provision of those aids while her child was being hospitalized. (Redden, Huffington Post). Again, when these kinds of harsh and insensitive measures were exposed, Harris now began to back away from them so she could call herself a “progressive prosecutor.” Which, from the evidence adduced above, does not seem to be the case.
With what I know about Harris, if I had been advising Joe Biden at the June 27th debate, I would have rehearsed him in advance and done it more than once. Studying her showboating career, it would have been obvious to me that she would attack the frontrunner over his comments in a 2007 book he wrote about being able to work with conservative segregationists from the south in his early says in the Senate, e.g., James Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia. In a speech he gave recently, he talked about how he needed Eastland’s blessing to get on the Judiciary Committee, a spot he very much coveted. He also added that Talmadge was a mean man, but he managed to be civil with him. (Washington Examiner, June 28, 2019, article by Alana Goodman)
Recall, this was over forty years ago when Biden was one of the youngest senators ever elected. In fact, Biden was very collegial with almost everyone in the Senate. He understood that one had to be that way in order to get things done. When Biden was first elected to that body, she was about 9 and would soon move to Canada. I would have told Biden to remind her of that fact and also this one: Kamala, would you also condemn Robert Kennedy for working with Eastland when he was Attorney General? Because RFK called Eastland during the Freedom Riders crisis in 1961. He needed his help with local law enforcement to protect the lives of the demonstrators. RFK made a deal with the senator which both sides kept. (Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, p. 312). As this author has shown, Bobby Kennedy was the most vigilant Attorney General to enforce civil rights in the history of this country. And that is not just my judgment, but it’s the judgment of people like Martin Luther King, and Harry Belafonte. That is not an opinion, but a proven fact. Both RFK and Biden were victims of history and the refusal of either political party to stand up to the forces of white supremacy in the south that allowed senators like Eastland and Talmadge to stay in power as long as they did. To try and score cheap political points by feigning ignorance of that reality seems to me to be typical of Harris’ career.
As to her second complaint about Biden’s objections to forced busing to integrate public schools, again I am surprised he was not better prepared. The obvious way to have replied was through her relationship with Willie Brown. Everyone knows how close that was. Willie Brown was one of the smartest politicians in the history of California. He went on Sixty Minutes one evening in the eighties and said he told everyone running in the state not to come near the busing issue. He said that stance came from a simple fact: the issue was too polarizing. Brown said that no matter how good a candidate the Democrats would put up, they would be in serious trouble—and would often lose—to a GOP candidate who would use demagoguery on the busing issue (for instance, the defeat of Jim Corman by Bobbi Fiedler in 1980). Corman was an excellent liberal congressman who had a part in the groundbreaking Kerner Commission report. That report was so honest and far reaching on the racial issue that President Johnson ignored it. Biden should have told her to call Willie Brown after the debate and ask him about that interview and about the fate of Jim Corman. In fact, I would have advised him to have Brown’s number on speed dial and just press it after Harris attacked him. That is how predictable this was.
He should also have asked her if she ever advocated for busing in California. There are many problems with public schools, but if arresting the parents of truant children is the only policy you have, then you are part of the problem, not the solution. I would suggest something like open enrollment throughout the large districts with the requirement that the district has to get the student to his school of choice. Hold your breath for Harris to propose that one.
Now, if Harris would have gone after Biden for what he did during the Anita Hill hearings, that would be different. I would not be writing this column at this time if she had done that. And I really wish someone would have asked her why she did not do that. But this is someone who is responsible for arresting African American mothers with kids who have sickle cell anemia. And then keeps them tied up in court for two years.
It’s no surprise to me that people like Van Jones praised what Harris did. This is the guy who once said that the Kennedys had to be educated about civil rights. That is utterly false. But this shows that when it comes to history, Jones is as bad as Harris.
There is one last thing that Biden could have replied with, but it would have been too much of an outlier for someone like him. He should have also lectured Harris about Bobby Kennedy and his actions at places like the University of Alabama, protecting incoming students like Vivian Malone from George Wallace with a force of 3500 soldiers and marshals under the supervision of General Creighton Abrams. Some southern politicians you could work with and some you could not. Biden then should have said something like: “Remember Bobby Kennedy Kamala? Maybe you don’t. He is the guy who’s murder you refused to reopen when you had the opportunity to do so as Attorney General. In fact, you actually worked with people who had done their best to cover up the facts of that case. It’s part of your legacy of refusing to free people who had been framed by the state.”
This is all utterly true. And it is written about by Lisa Pease in her fine new book on the RFK case, A Lie Too Big to Fail (see pp. 501-02). This is how much a part of the Establishment Harris really is. This is how protective she is of her image with the MSM. At the time of the William Pepper/Laurie Dusek appeal, she actually said that the evidence against Sirhan Sirhan was overwhelming. To anyone who reads the book by Pease, that statement is ludicrous.
Because of her Clintonesque politics and record, it is easy to explain why she is the darling of the MSM. They want more of Barack Obama. And that is who Harris really is: she is a combination of Obama and Hillary Clinton. She is about as far away from Bobby Kennedy in 1968 as one can imagine and still be a Democrat. Which may explain why she had no interest or sympathy in freeing an innocent man for his murder. A crime he did not—actually could not have—committed.