The Neoliberal Record Of Kamala Harris: Reckon With It Instead Of Attacking Critics
Kamala Harris, a career prosecutor who served as California’s attorney general and is now a United States senator, is seen by liberals as the Democratic Party new “rising star”. Democrats are already touting the possibility of a 2020 presidential run, and any inkling of criticism, regardless of how genuine, faces a backlash from influential people in the political and media arena.
Critics are attacked on multiple levels. First, defenders argue Harris is a cog working within a larger unjust machine. Condemning her political decisions is frivolous because “she’s doing her job.”
They also argue critics are “purists” in search of a politician without imperfections. This assertion, while undoubtedly pretentious, is intended to malign leftists as immature and unable to understand the dirty realities of politics.
The third component of attacks involves malicious misrepresentation, a claim that critics reject Harris because she is a woman, or more specifically, a black woman. By weaponizing neoliberal identity politics, even the whitest liberals freely manipulate the wider discourse on race and gender in order to shape it into their favor.
During an edition of MSNBC’s “AM Joy,” host Joy-Ann Reid spoke with Jason Johnson, a contributor for The Root, and Zerlina Maxwell, director of progressive programming at Sirius XM. Maxwell described the bloc of supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders and claimed the “ideological purity that some Sanders supporters want to implement in the Democratic Party is really a manifestation of privilege.”
“People of color and women can’t abide by purity tests…because of the structural difficulties of running for office,” Maxwell contended.
Johnson offered his own interpretation of the energy surrounding Harris. Referring to the former attorney general’s supporters as the “K-Hive,” which is a reference to pop culture icon Beyoncé and her “Beyhive”, he said, “Some people on the left have already forgotten…that people will protect her, and [they] love her to death…” and that Democrats should be mobilising around figures like Harris who “elicit such a response.”
Reid was enthralled enough by this comparison that she mentioned it on Twitter, to the delight of her followers.
A few days later, Reid shared the following comment: “Personality cults on the right and left are responsible for our current situation. Stop turning candidates into messiahs. They’re employees.” “This a thousand times,” Reid added. And yet Harris, with all of her blatant and inescapable shortcomings, has her own personality cult chasing the heels of a potential presidential run by Harris.
The “AM Joy” segment, like many liberals’ claims of “attacks” by the “far left,” ignored the fact that these critics garnering attention are primarily progressive or Democratic socialist Sanders supporters. These are individuals from a faction that may never be forgiven for refusing to enthusiastically line up in support of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Election. They are not communists, Marxists, or full-blooded socialists.
Reid and guests also largely avoided the real issues impacting citizens, particularly people of color, that deserve to be confronted when it comes to Harris’ record as a politician.
In 2014, lawyers for Kamala Harris argued in court that if minimum-custody inmates were released early, the state of California would “lose an important labor pool.” These inmates included firefighters, who are paid $1 an hour to confront some of the deadliest blazes in California history. Harris later argued that she was unaware her own office argued in favor of keeping parolees in jail so they could serve as the state’s on-call cheap labor.
A breakthrough profile in the New York Times referred to Harris as a “top cop” prosecutor who, according to critics, “failed to take on prosecutorial misconduct.” The profile noted in 2015 her office was called out for “defending convictions obtained by local prosecutors who inserted a false confession into the transcript of a police interrogation, lied under oath, and withheld crucial evidence from the defense.”
Police crimes were largely ignored by Harris. Oakland police officer Miguel Masso shot and killed Alan Blueford in 2012. Multiple witnesses said Blueford had no weapon, did not pose a threat to the officer, and was running away from the officer.
The Justice For Alan Blueford Coalition wrote a letter to Harris and demanded she do her job by bringing charges against Masso. Supporters engaged in civil disobedience in 2014, after she refused to meet with them. They were arrested (and police even swept up their legal observer in the arrests).
Harris’ book “Smart On Crime,” published in 2009, was a testament to a deeply capitalist, dystopian political ideology shared by even the most “progressive” Democrats.
The public is often referred to as “consumers” (examples: “consumers of safety,” “consumer education”). They are urged to support a crime policy which relentlessly focuses on violent crime, “and the prosecution of violent criminals.”
“The opportunity before us encourages transformation and empowerment of communities: rather than people feeling like helpless victims of crimes, they can become educated consumers of safety.”
Harris characterizes policing as a “service” and suggests:
[W]e can find and are finding more effective ways to reduce the sheer volume of nonviolent crime and recidivism, so that those nonviolent offenders don’t escalate their behavior and become so enmeshed in the crime cycle that we end up having to pay attention to them—and frankly pay for them—for the rest of their lives. The money we save can be used to put more police officers on the street, solve more crimes, attack more high-tech and identity-theft crimes with better technology, and provide services to victims. [emphasis added]
In 2010, Harris pushed a heavy-handed truancy initiative that went into effect in 2011. This anti-truancy bill—SB 1317—made it so that parents of truant children who miss more than 10 percent of their classes can be charged with a misdemeanor and given a $2,000 fine or a year in prison “if, after being offered state support and counseling, their kids still fail to improve their attendance.”
This wasn’t Harris’ first dance with anti-truancy measures, by any means. In 2009, Harris wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that she had already prosecuted 20 parents for truancy, thereby introducing, or reintroducing, children and their families to a criminal justice system that is already stacked against them.
During her 2010 campaign, Harris touted a record of what she described as tough, affirmative crime prevention. Her official campaign page bragged that her felony conviction rate surpassed the years before—“from 52 percent in 2003 to 67 percent in 2006, the highest in a decade.”
Harris played a role in the wider United States drug war, increasing convictions for drug dealers from 56 percent to 74 percent in just three years.
Despite forming the first Mortgage and Investment Fraud Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, Harris refused to go after “foreclosure king” Steven Mnuchin, a decision she defended as recently as January. Mnuchin, who oversaw some 36,000 foreclosures between 2009 to 2015, violated numerous state foreclosure laws, and yet Harris refused to concede that his record should keep him from serving as President Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary.
Harris’ record with police departments and the California prison industry is not simply a result of her job as attorney general. She played a key role in expanding the horizon of state violence.
Now, rather than diversifying the ranks of state actors responsible for oppression, it is critical to force Senator Kamala Harris to reckon with her neoliberal record, regardless of how her “K-Hive” may respond to such efforts.