Opinion

Kamala Harris: A moderate choice in a radical America

When Joe Biden announced that he had selected ‘fearless fighter for the little guy’ Kamala Harris as his running mate in November’s US Presidential election, he ended weeks of speculation. The appointment came following Biden’s commitment to choosing a woman to join him on the Democratic Party ticket, and he has fulfilled that promise by picking the 55-year-old Californian senator who makes history as the first black woman to take up the post. 

Given the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the Trump campaign’s attempt to portray the election as a choice between law and order and lawlessness, selecting a black immigrant and former state attorney general seems a wise move from the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. On the face of it, Harris is the perfect strategic appointment, but her record and stance on key issues paints her as a moderate in an America gasping for radical reform.  

It was not only the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on the 25th of May this year that piled pressure onto the Biden campaign to select a black candidate to run alongside the 77-year old. After a succession of devastating blows, it was black Democrat women that propelled him to victory in South Carolina back in February, seen as a major turning point in his Presidential journey. Consequently, Biden has done well to recognise both the appeal of Harris both within his own party as well as across the wider nation given the upheaval and violence brought about in relation to the racial issues America now faces.

Although for these reasons Harris may superficially appear an ideal running mate to the Presidential hopeful, Biden would have done better to select a more outwardly progressive Democrat to broaden his own appeal as a moderate centrist. However much both Donald Trump and Mike Pence attack her as a radical, far-left danger, Harris’ record indicates she offers little to appease the most left-leaning in the party. Whilst broadly aligned with her party’s views on criminal justice and healthcare reform, Harris has refused to endorse defunding of police, but has rather supported a ‘reimagining of how we do public safety in America.’ Her track record as attorney general in California and district attorney in San Francisco does little to help – in 2014, she annoyed progressives in her party by opposing a judge’s ruling that the death penalty was unconstitutional. In 2015, she even failed to engage with efforts to ensure incidents of police brutality in California were to be independently scrutinized, or that all on duty officers should be made to wear body cameras at all times. America now finds itself aching for an overhaul of the criminal justice system in order to bring about long overdue fair treatment to ethnic minorities, so the question remains whether an establishment figure who once described herself as the ‘top cop’ in California is best placed for Biden to demonstrate he is the man to alleviate the fears of ethnic America.

It is impossible to pretend that healthcare is not the other most significant policy area in this election year. Healthcare provisions have been highlighted by the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, and Harris’ indecision on reform in this area probably lost her the chance to be running as President in her own right. She initially backed Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2017 Medicare for All bill to provide government-funded medical insurance for all Americans, before backtracking during her campaign for the Democratic nomination. Biden himself also refused to support Sanders. Having a running mate who did may have worked in his favour by appealing to those within America that feel disillusioned and excluded by the centre-ground establishment – the same voters that Trump so effectively utilised to his advantage in 2016. 

Biden’s age has also emphasised the significance of his vice-Presidential choice. As the oldest candidate ever to run for the Presidency, rumours have circulated that he may only run for one term in office, perhaps meaning the Democrats will have to select another nominee in 2024. As his potential vice-President, Harris may emerge as his natural successor. The United States has been left in disarray by a deeply deficient Trump administration that’s left the country pining for a fresh approach. I fear a Biden-Harris victory would simply offer a complacent retreat into the familiar comfort of establishment in America.