by Matan Josephy, Opinions Writer
graphic by Kaila Marie
I have to admit: when I first saw that Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate, I was frustrated. Really frustrated. I had been opposed to her presidential candidacy last year and throughout the vice presidential selection process, I remained steadfast in my opposition to the prospect of a Vice President Harris.
Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind.
Kamala Harris is imperfect — there’s no doubt about that. Her experience in national politics pales in comparison to many of her fellow senators, and her harsh prosecutorial record has done more harm than good. Her past is checkered, and it’s not one I intend to defend or attempt to justify — but to understand what Biden’s selection means, we need to understand the cold, hard truth about this election.
Donald Trump’s presidency has been a disaster. Nearly every major policy decision executed over the past three and a half years has been irresponsible and reckless, only further hurting our country. Take, for instance, the pandemic — while countries across the world successfully tackled this crisis with level-headed leadership driven by medical consult, the current U.S. administration’s lack of a coherent message, utter disregard for public-health guidelines and consistent rejection of facts has led to millions of cases and almost 200,000 deaths.
Even beyond the pandemic, the Trump administration has spent the past term doing everything from undermining women’s rights to scrapping critical climate regulations to promoting economic policies that increase income inequality to the point where the richest 0.1% of Americans make upwards of 196 times that of the bottom 90%.
As such, this election is a unique one. Instead of two candidates with differing views who will both lead with integrity, the American public is faced with a choice between the continuation of chaos and disorder or a transition to an America that works for its citizens. Given the unsustainability of the former option, we must do everything in our power to get rid of President Trump — and Kamala Harris is best-suited to make that happen. Her popularity with a wide coalition of voters and her national profile are key tools that will propel Joe Biden to victory this November. Ultimately, Biden’s victory is what matters most.
Harris is consistently seen as a moderate voice in politics, as opposed to many of her fiercely progressive senatorial colleagues and former presidential competitors. The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times have described her as a “centrist,” and the New York Times dubbed her a “pragmatic moderate.” During her own presidential campaign, Harris advocated for policies closer to the political center, often pushing for slow reform as opposed to rapid change. Most Americans saw her views as aligning more closely with those of Pete Buttigieg or Joe Biden than with the ardent progressivism of Bernie Sanders.
Since arriving on the national stage in 2016 with her election to the Senate, Harris has consistently displayed views much more left-wing than her reputation has the public believe. According to the think tank GovTrack’s nonpartisan, multi-year analysis, Harris ranked one of the most liberal senators in Congress when judging solely by legislation authored and sponsored. Though it didn’t go so far as to endorse Medicare for All, her own healthcare proposal released during her presidential campaign was very left-wing. While legislation sponsored is far from enough to holistically analyze her position on the political spectrum, it nonetheless demonstrates that Harris is much more left-wing than she is made out to be.
Overall, Harris has consistently advocated for policies much more liberal than what she is generally thought to support — a perception that will likely prove useful to bring together progressives alongside more moderate voters. It enables her to appeal to both groups simultaneously, as she can flaunt her progressive credentials while maintaining a public image of moderation.
The benefit of this dichotomy cannot be understated, and all it takes is a look back to 2016 to see why. A study done by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey found that nearly 12% of Bernie Sanders supporters ultimately voted for Trump last election, and approximately 8% voted for a third-party candidate, ultimately costing Hillary Clinton millions of voters. For reference, Clinton lost Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan — and thus the entire election — by less than 80,000 votes total (that’s smaller than Newton’s population). While this cannot be solely attributed to a lack of support from progressives, it nonetheless emphasizes that Biden cannot afford to lose the same number of progressive voters that Clinton did without grave risk to his election prospects. By picking a running mate with the credentials to keep far-left supporters without alienating independents, Biden takes a crucial step toward victory.
Harris’ advantages, however, extend far beyond her appeal to both progressives and moderates. When discussing her candidacy, we cannot push aside how historic her election would be. Besides being the third woman ever nominated by a major party for the vice presidency, she is the first woman of color ever nominated for national office by the Democratic Party. This alone is valuable — Harris’s success pays homage to the women of color to whom the Democratic party owes much of its success. Black women represent much of the Democratic party and the electorate, and it is far past time that the party’s ticket represented its members. Harris has made her own identity as a multiracial person a core component of who she is as a candidate and pledges to use her own success as a platform from which to elevate other Black and Brown voices across the country — something that is far overdue in American politics.
Beyond this, the diversity Harris brings to the ticket could easily translate into electoral benefits. A study by the Quarterly Journal of Economics found that turnout among African American communities can rise up to 3% when Black candidates run for office — a relatively small figure, but one that could amount to thousands of additional voters in areas that will likely be won by slim margins such as Pennsylvania, Georgia or Florida.
However, it should be mentioned that diversity alone is absolutely no guarantee that African American voters will automatically turn out in droves for Harris — but the historic potential that her candidacy represents is not something that should be underestimated. Low Black turnout in 2016 was a contributing factor to Clinton’s loss, and Black voters make up a huge portion of the Democratic Party. Kamala Harris’s candidacy has the potential to provide direct electoral benefits in an election that could easily come down to the wire.
Simply put, Kamala Harris is far from a perfect candidate for Vice President. But in an election where we are faced with the possibility of four more years of Trump and the havoc he has wreaked on the country, Kamala Harris not only boosts the chances of Joe Biden’s election, but finally brings representation at the national level to communities that have lacked it for far too long.