Reason Roundup

Kamala Harris Builds Anti-Prosecutor Strawman at CNN Townhall

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Democrats and media lapped it up.


Sen. Kamala Harris' bid to charm liberal voters and press with last night's televised townhall seems to have worked. Many mainstream media outlets and progressive commentators are singing the California Democrat's praises for uttering magical incantations like "Medicare for All," invoking criminal justice buzzwords (like bodycams) when asked to defend her prosecutorial record, and taking swipes at President Donald Trump.

Once again, Harris tried to strawman her way out of addressing her record as a prosecutor, positioning critiques as the angry and incoherent rants of people who just hate law enforcement and can't be pleased. "Some believe prosecutors should not exist. I will never satisfy them," she told Jake Tapper. "Do I wish I could do more? I do."

Once again, Harris sounds a lot like President Donald Trump, whose go-to response when confronted with people acting against him or his supporters is to portray those people as crazed and lawless anarchists. In this way, both politicians can feign taking issues seriously while casting off any blame as the muttering of discontents that all serious people are above.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of Democratic drones on Twitter lapped Harris' performance right up, applauding her for addressing her record "directly and head on" (as CNN political reporter Kyung Lah put it).

Ultimately, what matters to most Democrats and the media establishment is that Harris makes the right broad progressive gestures. And she did, criticizing Trump forcefully ("Kamala Harris is getting the loudest applause when she lays into Trump, calling his wall a 'medieval vanity project,'" pointed out Playboy Washington Correspondent Alex Thomas), contrasting herself with him on things like immigration policy ("Note that @KamalaHarris leapt to her feet when a dreamer questioner said she didn't want to be used as a bargaining chip," cooed CNN's Maeve Reston), and nodding to ideas like government-run health care and middle-class tax cuts.

Which is to say: We should all be afraid. Tell people you're going to make their insurance cheaper and their tax refunds larger and most could care less how many poor parents you wanted to throw in jail, how many dirty cops you defended, how many sex workers' lives you've endangered, how many people you've helped imprison on drug charges, how many immigrants you've turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), how many people's due process rights you've trampled, or how many "criminals" you wanted to use for slave labor. To the tribalists and "pragmatists" and a whole lot of others, these aren't unacceptable compromises or even worrying indicators of authoritarian impulses, but nonentities.

In many ways, Trump has allowed Democrats to veer back to the right on criminal justice issues, after a very short flirtation with reform during the Obama years. This momentum, the high-profile activism surrounding Michael Brown's shooting in Ferguson, and the ascendancy of the Black Lives Matter movement, helped make Hillary Clinton's tough-on-crime past at least a little bit of a liability in 2016. But even as more activists, sex workers, socialists, independent-leaning leftists, libertarians, and other niche groups call out Harris on her record—one much worse than Clinton's on this front—I fear that it will have much less of an impact this go around. All Harris (or any Democrat with a crooked cop past like hers) has to do is invoke the comparatively stupefying specter of more Trump or contrast their "good" tough-on-crime policies with his more dramatic plans, and suddenly '90s crime panic attitudes are rendered middle ground again.



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