Home/Rod Dreher/Kamala Harris: The Racial Strife Candidate

Kamala Harris: The Racial Strife Candidate

As regular readers know, I thought California Sen. Kamala Harris was the clear winner in Thursday night’s Democratic debate. I don’t say that as a Harris fan, at all. Her attack on Joe Biden for having opposed school busing in the 1970s — when the court-ordered policy was very unpopular — was stone-cold cynical. I didn’t realize just how cynical until this today:

Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign hasn’t wasted any time capitalizing on the momentum from her strong debate performance Thursday night, which included a confrontation with former Vice President Joe Biden that quickly went viral.

By Friday morning, the website for her White House bid was already selling “That Little Girl Was Me” T-shirts, featuring a picture of a young Harris against a black backdrop, for $29.99 to $32.99.

The shirt went on sale not long after Thursday’s debate when Harris challenged former Biden on his comments about working with segregationist senators and his record on civil rights. In a moment that quickly went viral, she accused him of working with the lawmakers to oppose busing black students to schools attended by mostly white students.

“You also worked with them to oppose busing, and you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools,” she said to Biden on Thursday. “And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

She had the t-shirts printed and ready to go. All she needed to do was to portray Joe Biden — Joe Biden! — as an integration opponent who bullies little black girls.

The blogger Education Realist explains why Kamala Harris’s self-narrative regarding busing and integration is a crock. He’s frustrated at conservative pundits who thought her “that little girl was me” moment was a solid body blow against Biden. I still disagree; I think that it was a great moment for her politically, as a candidate in the Democratic primaries, in that I suspect it will start to peel away Biden’s black support.

But I think that if she wins the nomination, it will turn out to be a huge liability for her. It’s hard for younger voters who weren’t alive at the time to grasp what a disaster forced busing turned out to be, and how much people — not just white people! — hated it. The Washington Post reported yesterday:

The year that Joe Biden entered the Senate, in 1973, Gallup asked Americans whether they thought busing children from one neighborhood to another was the best means of integrating the nation’s public schools.

Five percent of those surveyed said they favored that approach; broken into racial groups, 4 percent of whites and 9 percent of blacks said they supported busing.

Integration? Yes, a majority said. In principle.

But not if it meant compulsory busing.

The response illustrates the firm political footing on which Biden stood as a freshman lawmaker when he opposed government-mandated busing, a policy that roiled Wilmington, Del., and other major metropolitan areas in the 1970s.

The Post story goes on to say that even today, busing remains unpopular. Harris attempts to make opposition to busing the same as opposition to school integration, which it certainly is not. And now, according to Harris’s press secretary, the candidate is now in favor of busing:

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Education Realist again:

Look, Americans who aren’t dealing with immigrants every day often don’t completely grasp what it’s like, and go squishy on things like border control or amnesty.

In contrast, they are entirely clear on the intrusive, invasive ways the federal government can “step in” to order schools. And they don’t like it one bit.

Go ahead, Kamala, you brave truth teller, you survivor of segregated Berkeley discrimination. Tell all those Dem voters how busing is what America’s schools need to achieve the necessary diversity. Tell them how you’ll appoint judges who’ll overrule Milliken, allow states to mandate integration across districts.

Tell white working class voters the Dems still need in order to win, all those rich white progressives who purport to love people of color so long as some other school is being integrated, not theirs. Tell low income African Americans to forget about those charter schools they like so much, because your great integration plan means they’ll be unnecessary. Trumpet your plans to mandate school systems like San Francisco, where racial quotas determine where and how far each child will be sent away from home. While you’re at it, explain how this system resulted in far more segregation.

Go ahead and tell people that your plan will end segregation as the government sorts populations based on race, just like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 planned all along.

But best of all, go tell Asians all about your great plans. Tell all those parents at those 80, 90% Asian public schools you plan to yank half of the kids out and send them into the inner cities with all sorts of poor black and Hispanic kids. Go ahead and tell Asian immigrants that they can’t cluster and dominate in certain schools, tested or otherwise.

… I don’t understand politics, I know, but for the life of me I don’t understand why every politician from Trump on down to dogcatcher isn’t tweeting about Harris’s plan. Then hound every other Dem candidate and force them to fight that battle for her. Harris will be oh so very popular.

“If you like your school, too bad. Democrats won’t let you keep it.”

If Joe Biden is smart, he will not be intimidated by Harris’s race-baiting, and will go after her on this. But among the enwokened Democratic primary electorate, I don’t know if an old white man like Biden can sustain an effective attack on a black woman on a racially-charged issue. We’ll see.

Now that Harris has declared, through her press secretary, that she favors forced busing, we all know what a Harris presidency would mean. And the fact that she was willing to tear into Joe Biden so cynically, using race as her stiletto, we also know something about the way she would govern as president. Advantage Trump.

UPDATE: Surprise! Politico reports that Team Kamala has been planning that ambush of Joe Biden for a while now. Excerpt:

But her opening first came last week when Biden offered nostalgic memories of a time when he worked with segregationist colleagues like Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, proponents of using states’ rights to slow walk civil rights legislation. Harris, whose sole experience with a full stage of competitors came during her Senate primary in 2016, prepped with a small team of aides in Washington and then in Miami. A senior strategist, Averell “Ace” Smith, imitated Sanders, while Biden was played by Harris’ national press secretary, Ian Sams.

While walking through her planned exchange with Biden over busing, Harris’ campaign planned for a variety of answers from him, from contrition to a more measured approach to the more forceful denial of the position that he ended up giving — a stance that was called out by fact-checkers as untrue given his past quotes rejecting the wisdom of busing.

Harris herself ended up settling on a line that within minutes would appear in social media memes and just a few hours later would be screen printed on t-shirts selling for $29 on her website: “That little girl was me,” she said, of her desegregated class.

“You replay the thing and it seems like she was having a conversation with him,” a Harris campaign official said in playing back the encounter. The point she drove home, the aide added, was “this was something that meant something to me.”

Under no scenario did they consider Biden offering her such a gift to conclude the exchange: “My time is up,” Biden said. “I’m sorry.”

She does not mess around.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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