Within moments of Joe Biden announcing 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.”
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 fought back any attempts to change California’s vicious prison system, institute a criminal justice reform and abolish the 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, at risk to their lives, to fight wildfires for $2 a day.
She was hardly the “progressive prosecutor” she claimed to have been when announcing her presidential candidacy in 2019.
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 Week 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 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!’ And we walk around everywhere – ‘Build More Schools!’ We protest [mocking face, hand pretending to hold up a placard] … ‘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.”
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 US Senate, Harris has tried to develop a progressive persona by speaking on behalf of liberal causes such as immigration reform, marijuana legalization and increased pay for schoolteachers. She scored more 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 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 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients from deportation and opposed Trump’s border wall with Mexico, but, tellingly, failed to vote against Trump’s network of immigrant detention 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’ Russiagate campaign, demanding Trump’s impeachment, not for his chilling violations of the US Constitution or his nativist persecution of immigrants, but for being an alleged Russian “stooge.” That has earned her points from the US national security establishment.
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 10 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’re 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.)
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’s identity attributes help conceal her captivity to the capitalist profits system that the right religiously supports. At the same time, as neither of the two major US 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 health insurance, and into poverty and misery in the middle of an epic pandemic.
Paul Street is an independent radical-democratic policy researcher, journalist, historian, author and speaker based in Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of seven books to date: Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004); Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era (New York: Routledge, 2005); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); Barack Obama and the Future of American Politics (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2008); The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (Paradigm, 2010); (with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party: Mass Media and the Campaign to Remake American Politics (Paradigm, 2011); They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014); and Hollow Resistance: Obama, Trump and the Politics of Appeasement (Counter Punch, 2020). Paul writes regularly for Telesur English, Counter Punch, Black Agenda Report, Z Magazine and Dandelion Salad.
Previously published on RT, August 14, 2020
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