The Big Business-backed Harris earned a reputation as a friend of the police and an agent of racially disparate mass incarceration.
“It’s an old game in American politics: Democrats posing as populists and progressives when they are owned by the nation’s imperial ruling class.”
Within just moments after Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden announced Kamala Harris as his running mate, the Trump campaign and the American right-wing propaganda machine began portraying the California senator as a “far-left radical” of the “Marxist” variety.
There’s nothing wrong with being a Leftist (I am one), but the charge (I might say compliment) is ludicrous and undeserved. Harris has long been firmly lodged on the right wing of the Democratic Party, which Richard Nixon’s former strategist Kevin Phillips accurately described as “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.”
After thirteen years as a deputy district attorney in Oakland and San Francisco, California, Harris unseated San Francisco’s actually left and progressive District Attorney Terence Hallinan in 2003. Running as the business candidate of “law and order,” Harris out-fundraised Hallinan by two to one, bringing in so much money from the Bay Area corporate establishment that the San Francisco Ethics Commission slapped her with a record fine for breaking campaign finance laws.
As both a Bay Area prosecutor (1990-2003) and California Attorney General (2003-2016), the Big Business-backed Harris earned a reputation as a friend of the police and an agent of racially disparate mass incarceration. She boasted of her high felony conviction rates, achieved with significant violations of defendant rights. She was hardly the “progressive prosecutor” she claimed to have been when announcing her presidential candidacy in 2019.
“Harris has long been firmly lodged on the right wing of the Democratic Party.”
As attorney-general, Harris defended California’s massive prison system against U.S. Supreme Court rulings that slammed its vicious overcrowding and mistreatment of prisoners as “cruel and unusual punishment.” She waged a campaign to end federal court supervision of California’s prisons. She consistently resisted calls for criminal justice reform. She advocated the fining and incarceration of the parents of truant children. She defended convictions obtained through false confessions and tried to overturn a lower court ruling that outlawed California’s death penalty. She even resisted a court order to release low-risk inmates by arguing that it could cost California an important source of cheap labor to be used risking their lives to fight wildfires for $2 a day.
Anyone who thinks “Copmala” Harris was a criminal justice “progressive” should watch a short Ted-style talk she gave on behalf of racist mass incarceration at the Chicago Ideas Conference in 2015. One really must take in her derisive voice and body language as she launched into a scornful attack on reformers’ supposedly naïve call to move taxpayer money from mass imprisonment to education:
"We all have these posters [sarcastic posture] in our closet [pained look on face] that is attached to a stick [stands up straight, mock-serious] that we sometimes will cart out when we're talking about criminal justice...and we run around with these signs [disdainful face].. 'Build More Schools, Less Jails, Build More Schools, Less Jails,' [all said in a whiny child's voice]. And we walk around everywhere, 'Build More Schools.' We protest [mocking face, hand pretending to hold up a poster] ...'Put money into education, not prisons!' [loud mocking squeaky voice]. There's a FUNDAMENTAL PROBLEM with that approach in my opinion. And it's this: ...you have not addressed the reason I have three padlocks on my front door."
“She advocated the fining and incarceration of the parents of truant children.”
Attorney General Harris and her multimillionaire white husband had "three padlocks on [their] front door" because the class rule and racial oppression system she spent her adult life serving and protecting had reached such stunning levels of savage inequality that the top tenth of the American One Percent possessed as much combined wealth as the nation’s bottom 90 percent while the median household Black-white wealth gap had reached six Black cents on the white dollar. These disparities were only worsened by the giant racist mass arrest and incarceration regime that she and her future presidential running mate Joe “Three Strikes” Biden did so much to advance.
During her very brief stint (2017-present) in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate, Harris has tried to develop a progressive persona by speaking on behalf of liberal causes like immigration reform, marijuana legalization and increased pay for schoolteachers. She scored points with liberals by aggressively questioning Trump’s right-wing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
In her disastrous and prematurely concluded presidential campaign, Harris clumsily tried to play the great game of Americans politics – “the manipulation of populism by elitism” (Christopher Hitchens) – by inauthentically posing as a candidate of the “the people.” She briefly took up Bernie Sanders call for “Medicare for All” but then reversed herself on ending private health insurance in favor of a federally financed system. She promised to protect DACA recipients from deportation and denounced Trump’s border wall with Mexico, but tellingly failed to vote against Trump’s network of immigrant concentration camps along the US-Mexico border. She backs a boosting of the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour but says nothing about how such an increase would leave millions of workers poor while ineligible for food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid.
Harris has also been a big player in the Democrats’ Russia Gate campaign, demanding Trump’s impeachment, not for his chilling violations of the U.S. Constitution or his nativist persecution of immigrants but for being an alleged Russian “stooge.” That has earned her backing from the U.S. national security establishment.
“She promised to protect DACA recipients but failed to vote against Trump’s network of immigrant concentration camps along the US-Mexico border.”
Vice presidential candidate Harris will make no calls for a real Green New Deal, genuinely progressive taxation, or Single Payer health insurance (Medicare for All), which the arch-corporatist Biden says he would veto – this even though Single Payer is backed by seven in ten Americans. Biden chose her because she will be safely on board with the corporate agenda while her deceptive progressive pretension and her nonwhite and female identity cloak her loyalty to an American System run by and for the mostly white corporate, financial and imperial establishment.
It’s an old game in American politics: Democrats posing as populists and progressives when they are owned by the nation’s imperial ruling class.
The Republicans are also playing an old game: absurdly labelling corporate and imperial Democrats “totalitarian” “radical leftists,” “Marxists,” “socialists,” and “communists.” From the New Deal (1932-1940) on, not a single Democratic president or presidential contender (no matter how militantly corporate, imperial, and anti-communist/-socialist), has escaped this “paranoid-style” charge from the American right. (The deeply conservative Barack Obama was ludicrously described as a “socialist,” a “Marxist,” and even a “Marxist-Leninist” by the Tea Party right even as he governed in strict accord with the interests of Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the military-industrial Pentagon System. )
“Biden chose her because she will be safely on board with the corporate agenda.”
It’s a bit harder than usual for the right to make the neo-McCarthyite charge stick on Biden. He’s an old and conservative, racially problematic white man with a long Congressional and Vice-Presidential record as an abject warmonger and a tool of the corporate class. Things are different with Harris. As a more recent arrival on the national stage, a product of the supposedly radical San Francisco Bay area, and a Black female, Harris is much easier to sell to the Republicans’ disproportionately rural, white, and male voting and street-fighting base as a radical, big city threat.
It’s all very ironic. As with Obama, Harris’ identity attributes – her technically nonwhite racial status and her gender – help cloak her captivity to the capitalist profits system that the right religiously supports. At the same time, as neither of the two major U.S. parties will ever admit, the United States could use a good dose of the socialism that Kamala Harris and other top Democrats are absurdly accused of supporting. Like something straight out of, well, Marx, the nation’s capitalist ruling class is grinding the American “democratic” experiment into arch-plutocratic dust, rendering longstanding majority-progressive public opinion irrelevant while wealth and power concentrate yet further upwards and millions of ordinary Americans are thrown out of work, off of health insurance, and into poverty and misery in the middle of an epic pandemic.
A slightly abbreviated version so of this essay was originally published by RT.com under the title “Kamala Harris is Not a ‘Left Radical’ or a ‘Marxist.’”
Paul Street’s latest book is Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump, and the Politics of Appeasement (CounterPunch Books, September 2020).