Reason Roundup

Kamala Harris Tries (Again) to Rewrite Her History as a Prosecutor of Petty Crimes

Plus: YouTube moderation, over-the-counter birth control, craft brewery regulation, New York prostitution laws, and more...


Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.) is "leaning into" her history as a prosecutor, some observers noted after the 2020 presidential candidate gave a speech Saturday in South Carolina. Rewriting her history would be more accurate.

"In this election, regarding my background as a prosecutor, there have been those who have questioned my motivations, my beliefs, and what I have done," Harris said at an event organized by the South Carolina NAACP. "But my mother used to say, you don't let people tell you who you are. You tell them who you are. Let me be clear, self-appointed political commentators do not get to define who we are and what we believe."

But if we're to rely on Harris' own words and writing about who she is and what she believes, we're left with a whole lot of contradictions and all sorts of major gaps—as I note in Reason's latest print issue. Throughout her political career, Harris has been prone to playing up her progressive bona fides when it suits her and her carceral-centric side at other times. But her actions as a prosecutor almost always fell in the latter camp.

I don't presume to know what Harris truly believes or who she really is behind the mask, which is why I think that her actions as a prosecutor and legislator are probably a better guide to how she would govern than anyone's commentary. And that record bears little resemblance to the prosecutor that Harris has been conjuring on the campaign trail.

The Harris campaign slogan is "Kamala Harris For the People" (a callback to her days representing Alameda and San Francisco counties in court), and her campaign is pushing hard on the idea that America needs a prosecutor-in-chief to counter President Donald Trump's corruption and lawlessness.

This seems to be missing the point of running for president. If Trump loses the 2020 election, we won't need a president to relitigate his past. That's not to say everyone should just write off any crimes committed by people in and around the Trump administration after it's gone. But the job of the next administration is to lead America forward, not keep us an eternal loop around the 2016 election.

The Harris campaign argument makes more sense when applied to how she would handle Trump in the general election, but it still falls flat as something particularly aspirational for a candidate. A smiling Harris grilling Trump from the debate stage may satisfy some. But Democrats need someone who can show up Trump without making it feel like merely a self-interested, sneaky, and partisan attack if they want the sympathy of swing voters or of people tempted to stay home. Again and again, Harris has failed on that.

Here's some of the rhetoric her communications person shared on Twitter as an example of "the kind of sharp, effective prosecution voters can expect from in a general election," as well as a showcase of her "wit and humor":

The quote above is from Harris' Sunday speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. No matter what you think of health care or tax policy, that's political grandstanding, not a realistic indictment of Trump or his administration. She goes on to crack a joke about Trump engaging in "securities fraud" for buddying up with foreign dictators.

None of the above comes across like much of a punchline when you watch Harris' delivery, and no one can be heard laughing in the audience. It's just the "sharp and effective" prosecutor casually suggesting that legislation passed by Congress could be a crime if Democrats don't agree with it.

Harris wraps up the theme by joking that Trump was also guilty of "identity fraud" against Barack Obama by claiming to be the best president this century.

The line might not be terrible coming from an entertainer. But coming from someone who has spent nearly her entire career putting people behind bars and threatening to (often for petty crimes like drug possession, truancy, and sex work, and at other times when she knew federal law disallowed her arrests), during an administration that has at least flirted with using the power of the executive to punish political enemies, following an election filled with Republicans chanting about the same…joking about all the trumped up charges you would bring as president and all the tortuous cop logic you can conjure in service of it just don't feel all that funny.



Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) has been calling for birth control pills to be sold over-the-counter:

Will she join her Republican counterparts in the Senate in sponsoring legislation to help see it through?


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