Two Lessons of Kamala: It’s Not The Boxes

When Barack Obama was elected president, some said it was the end of racism. That was false, but it did put an end to one thing, the belief that a black man could not be elected president. The point wasn’t that he was elected because he was black, but that he wasn’t not elected because he was black. No longer was race a preclusive factor.

But what about gender? When Hillary Clinton lost to Trump, unquestionably the most unfit, unqualified, candidate for the presidency since Andrew Jackson (and likely ever), many feminists argued that it was because she was a woman. In fairness, Clinton played the gender card, from pantsuit nation to announcing during the debates that she was the candidate for women. Unfortunately, the job was for the presidency of the United States, not the presidency of the women of the United States.

If race was no longer preclusive, then Kamala Harris was the candidate who checked the identitarian boxes for the progressive left this time around. She served in offices, up to her twelve minutes in the Senate, so she had a resume for higher office even if her tenure consisted of a mere twelve years from line prosecutor to smirking presidential candidate. But she had something no other candidate had: she was a black woman.

It’s not as if one could pluck any random black woman off the street and put her into the White House, but then, it’s not as if there would be any excuse not to put a black woman with a political pedigree into the White House either. Unless, of course, it was because America wasn’t ready for a black female president.

There are many people for whom identity matters. And to be honest, i would like to see woman elected, a black woman elected, for the sake of our ability to move beyond the question of whether anyone would be precluded from being elected president based on race, gender. But then, the assumption underlying the candidacy of Kamala Harris was that race and gender made her the perfect candidate for this election.

Just as California is so often viewed from afar as either glittering paradise or dystopian disaster, so Kamala Harris was crowned as the perfect Democrat for 2020.

From her roots through her rise, Ms. Harris’s trajectory reflects touchstones of California. Her parents emigrated from India and Jamaica, drawn like so many to the world-class public university at Berkeley, where they became active in the civil rights movement. Ms. Harris was born in October 1964, the same month as the Free Speech Movement. After college in the East, she started law school in San Francisco in the fall when Californians overwhelmingly adopted English as the state’s official language. She entered politics amid the anti-immigrant fervor of Proposition 187 and came of age in the first large state where whites became a minority.

Harris checked the boxes. Against Darth Cheeto, what sort of racist, sexist nation wouldn’t elect this black woman? And to the young, simplistic and passionate, nothing was more important than Harris’ checking the race and gender boxes.

Indeed, when Tiffany Cabán, a 31-year-old public defender, ran for Queens County District Attorney, her foremost, if not only, argument for her election was that she was a “queer Latina.” That was supposedly sufficient to make the case, because if one was a “queer Latina,” what other qualifications could one need? Didn’t that say it all? Wasn’t that enough? She lost, but it was close.

The consideration of race and gender in elections, in employment, in friendships, is wrong. It’s based on invidious discrimination, the use of an irrelevant factor to distinguish people. But more importantly, it’s counterproductive, as it removes the potentially best qualified person from the mix. Foreclosing consideration of a person because of their race or gender is absurd, as there can be no rational reason to not seek the broadest universe of people from which to select the best and most qualified person. To remove anyone from consideration for an irrelevant reason is unjustifiable and, well, foolish.

But that’s the elimination of race and gender as a preclusive factor. Whether it’s the job of president or the job of coder, the job should go to the best person for the job so that the best person can perform the best job. That Kamala Harris was a black woman should not, under any circumstances, impair her consideration or electability for the office of president. Her problem was that, black woman or not, she was still Kamala Harris.

Sure, there are some, perhaps many, for whom identity means all. They would vote for a rock if it had a vagina, just because that’s all they care about. For many these days, voting for someone who “looks like them” has become the rage, not necessarily to suggest they’re the best qualified as that is secondary to identity. For these people, Kamala Harris’ dropping out of the race proves that we remain a racist and sexist country, for it we weren’t, then we would vote race and gender and be done with it.

But there were polls, and Harris, despite her race and gender, couldn’t muster the support necessary to stay in the game. California didn’t support her. Black and brown people didn’t support her. America didn’t support her. Neither billionaires nor the 99% supported her. It wasn’t that she was a black woman.

Her carefully crafted image crumbled under the scrutiny of a national campaign. The bright beacon of hope in a dismal time dissolved into sound bites and bumper sticker slogans. “Justice is on the ballot.” “Dude gotta go.”

Being a black woman isn’t enough. There will be a female president. There will be a black woman sitting in the Oval Office behind the Resolute Desk. It will happen because being a black woman will not preclude America from electing that person to that office. But not until the black woman is also the candidate who wins the support of America. That’s as it should be.

19 thoughts on “Two Lessons of Kamala: It’s Not The Boxes

  1. Hunting Guy

    Richard Ahern.

    “The best qualified people don’t run for office because they don’t want to be dragged into the mud pit modern politics has become. Plus, they already have jobs,”

    1. SHG Post author

      This is a truism that feeds upon itself, as if the corollary that anyone who would run for president probably isn’t the sort of person one would want to vote for.

  2. LocoYokel

    ” For these people, Kamala Harris’ dropping out of the race proves that we remain a racist and sexist country, for it we weren’t, then we would vote race and gender and be done with it.”

    The irony of this statement and the attitude it represents is heavier than my 17-inch cast iron skillet.

  3. B. McLeod

    Democrats gave Crone 1.0 the nomination for 2016, despite the extensiveness to which she had reinvented herself to be all things to all people inside the Big Tent. Apparently it is still too soon to head down that same road again, and so, Harris could not be the Chosen One for 2020.

    1. SHG Post author

      Whenever anyone complains that Hillary won the popular vote (which may be technically correct, but immaterial given the nature of an electoral college system), I respond that any remotely acceptable Dem candidate should have beaten Trump 80-20% and taken 49 states. It will never be time to go down that road again, but that has nothing to do with Hillary’s gender.

      1. B. McLeod

        Eventually, when the sting of being Trumped has passed, they will return to the reinvented ones (but not Harris, at least not for 2020). Crone 2.0 is still strongly in the running, which clearly negates “gender” as a possible explanation of the Harris quick-fade.

      2. Ahaz01

        Indeed! Hillary was a terrible candidate and nominee. How the Democratic Party could actually nominate someone who was under an FBI criminal investigation is beyond my level of comprehension. Add the other baggage she brought, including the big one “Lack of Trust”, you could see how Trump won. I personally know African Americans that chose to overlook Trump’s racist dog calls, to vote for him. All because they didn’t trust Hillary. I pray the Dems do better this time!

    1. SHG Post author

      Nothing could be more clear than the distinction here between liberal and progressive. I bet Phil would be with me.

      1. Phil Ochs

        I vote for the democtratic party
        They want the woke to be right
        I go to all the anti-Trump rallies
        They sure get me seeing the light
        I’ll vote for any woman you ask for
        But don’t ask me to think things through
        So love me, love me, love me, i’m a progressive

  4. rxc

    When the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything like a nail.

    The only tool the Democrats seem to want to use these days is intersectional identity guilt, so they cannot explain anything, except in terms of racism, sexism, etc.

    Trump won because Hillary was the worst possible candidate that the Democrats could nominate. She carried all the Bill Clinton baggage, from the sexual predator history to the financial shenanigans to selling nights in the Lincoln Bedroom. Labeling half the country as “deplorable” did not help, either. We all knew that whoever won, in 2016, there was going to be a sexual predator living in the White House.

    Now, the Democrats seem to want to double down and promise to remake the entire country in their vision of the future, and they are not reluctant to spell out exactly what they mean by that. So, we will get 4 more years of Trump. Not pleasant, but better than the alternative.

      1. B. McLeod

        What? Crone 2.0 may be 1/64 to 1/1024 Native (and possibly a yet undetermined fraction LGBTQ, to be revealed as the race heats up). Meanwhile, Cory Booker complains about the debates, where “black” and “billionaire” really should be treated as equal “accomplishments.”

  5. Michael McNutt

    Still think about 1st black woman running for president in 1974 Shirley Chisholm from time to time. I think that someone like her who had served and could clearly state what she and her campaign were about would have had a better chance than Ms. Harris who seemed lacking in both experience and judgement.

Comments are closed.