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Will the Real Kamala Harris Please Stand Up?

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Will the Real Kamala Harris Please Stand Up?

The Wall Street Journal August 19, 2020
OtherCulture & Society

Once a tough-on-crime prosecutor, she now can’t answer a simple question about defunding the police.

We know that Kamala Harris is slated to speak Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention. What we don’t know is which Kamala Harris will show up.

Joe Biden chose the California senator as his running mate because he was under pressure to add diversity to the ticket. He doesn’t need Ms. Harris to win blacks, women or her reliably blue home state. He needs her to help him get progressive activists off his back. In that regard, she was a smart choice. In other regards, we’ll have to wait and see.

Ms. Harris’s political pedigree isn’t especially long, but it is complicated. Before joining the Senate, she served as San Francisco’s district attorney and California’s attorney general. To her credit, as a prosecutor she wasn’t averse to saying things that left-wing Democrats might not want to hear. In a 2010 speech, for example, she defended her decision to tackle truancy, which is pronounced in many low-income minority communities, by threatening to prosecute the parents of students who regularly skipped school. “I would not be standing here were it not for the education I received,” she said. “And I believe a child going without an education is tantamount to a crime.”

Today the U.S. is experiencing demonstrations on a scale not seen in generations. Violent protesters have attacked police, looted businesses, destroyed public property and overtaken sections of major cities. Violent crime, including shootings and homicides, is trending upward in big cities nationwide. You might think a law-and-order liberal on the ticket would be exactly what Democrats need to steal an issue from President Trump and help put them over the top in November. Alas, the old Kamala Harris has gone missing, and you could easily mistake her replacement for one of those progressives she once mocked as out of touch.

In a June appearance on “The View,” Ms. Harris was asked about defunding the police and didn’t exactly distance herself from the idea. “I think a big part of this conversation is about reimagining how we do public safety in America,” she said. “We have confused the idea that to achieve safety, you put more cops on the street, instead of understanding [that] to achieve safe and healthy communities, you put more resources into the public education system of those communities . . .” Gee, Sen. Harris. That sounds a lot like “put money into education, not prisons,” and it doesn’t address the reason people have three padlocks on their front door.

Because of Mr. Biden’s advanced age, there is heightened interest in Ms. Harris and her own policy preferences. But if the former vice president falls short on Election Day, it will be his fault and not his running mate’s, even if she makes things a little harder for him. Ms. Harris’s ardent support for a job-killing Green New Deal, and her wishy-washiness on Medicare for All and eliminating private health insurance, will hardly help Mr. Biden with the union households and independent voters he’s targeting in Rust Belt swing states.

Mr. Biden apparently believes his lead in the polls is sufficient to indulge the party’s left flank, and perhaps it is. But some Democrats might also be wondering why that lead isn’t even larger given the tanked economy, the bungled Covid response and an incumbent with a job-approval rating in the low 40s. Americans are facing double-digit unemployment rates, evictions, bankruptcies and uncertainty about sending children back to school, yet Mr. Trump remains within striking distance. Was Ms. Harris worth the risk?

Democrats deserve credit for playing it smart so far. They not only avoided the civil war that upended the Republican Party in 2016 but are nominating the last person Mr. Trump wanted to run against in the fall. His preference would have been to offer voters a stark choice between himself and a die-hard leftist like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. Instead, the president is facing a likable and reputationally moderate party elder. Is the reputation still warranted? Not really. Like his party, Mr. Biden has adopted more-progressive positions in the Trump era. But as Mark Twain supposedly once remarked, a man with a reputation as an early riser can sleep until noon.

This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal (paywall)

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Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator. Follow him on Twitter here.

Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

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