Sunday, June 30, 2019

Race, And South Carolina

It's on to South Carolina.

People are still buzzing about what Natasha Korecki of Politico described as "Kamala Harris’ takedown of Joe Biden." John Blake of CNN "watched Sen. Kamala Harris' exquisite takedown of Joe Biden." Greg Sargent asserted "Harris grabbed control of the debate with a simple phrase: “I would like to speak on the issue of race.”

This "takedown" was not extemporaneous, and likely not a result of suppressed memories from Kamala Harris' experience as a school-age child in Berkeley, California. Instead

Her campaign had spent months fixated on Biden, whose support from black voters has kept him atop all of the early polls. They gamed out several scenarios in which she could use her personal story as a point of contrast with his decades-long record, including over his opposition to busing.

In the debate, Harris willed her way into the conversation about race and policing, calmly noting that as the only black person on the stage, she’d like to be heard....

While walking through her planned exchange with Biden over busing, Harris’ campaign planned for a variety of answers from him, from contrition to a more measured approach to the more forceful denial of the position that he ended up giving — a stance that was called out by fact-checkers as untrue given his past quotes rejecting the wisdom of busing.

Harris herself ended up settling on a line that within minutes would appear in social media memes and just a few hours later would be screen printed on t-shirts selling for $29 on her website: “That little girl was me,” she said, of her desegregated class.

Harris knows well an unstated- but well understood- maxim of politics:no one ever lost a vote invoking "the children."  Her narrative would not have been as powerful to the coastal elites who dominate the commentariat had the Senator not invoked "that little girl," dramatically intoning "that little girl was me."

As luck would have it- and unlike Harris' strong and clear implication- placing her in a majority- white school may not have been the primary factor driving an extremely successful career governmental career. We learn

In the mid-1990s, Harris had dated (Willie) Brown, who was investigated by the FBI when he was speaker of the California Assembly and as mayor was dogged by conflict of interest, and she had benefited from his political patronage. As the speaker of the state Assembly, Brown had named Harris to well-paid posts on the California Medical Assistance Commission and Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. As mayor of San Francisco in 2003, Brown was supportive of her district attorney campaign although they were no longer dating.

Taking advantage of personal connections is just common sense, as is exploiting in a Democratic debate one's minority status. Three days after Senator Harris had skillfully done the latter, fellow candidate Cory Booker was questioned on Meet the Press about Harris' famous confrontation of Biden. The New Jersey senator maintained that the former vice-president may not be "up to that task" of being able to "talk openly and honestly about race with vulnerability."

Harris' racially-driven performance can be viewed in the spirit of Booker's call for honest dialogue.Ten months ago, seemingly before hardly anyone had realized it, David Siders wrote in Politico

In the wake of South Carolina’s pivotal role in the past two competitive Democratic presidential contests, top Democrats are beginning to rethink their traditional approach to primary season, and to focus their energy on the first Southern state to vote.

It’s a tacit acknowledgment of the essential role African-American voters play within the Democratic Party as much as it is a nod to recent primary election results. With the racially diverse Obama coalition increasingly viewed as the key to the party’s future, the two early states that have historically overshadowed South Carolina — Iowa and New Hampshire — are suddenly looking outmoded to many Democrats.

Joe Biden had held a substantial lead in South Carolina, a state in which African-Americans are expected to constitute roughly half of the Democratic primary electorate. However, perceived as black by virtue of having a Jamaican-born father, the California senator has a serious shot at winning the vote there- and a much greater chance than she had before Thursday.

Kamala Harris' statement on Thursday was not about Herman Talmadge, education, or little children. It clearly was about race, and almost as clearly about South Carolina.

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