Reason Roundup

Harris Fans Blame Billionaires, Sexists, and Racists for Her Campaign's Collapse

Plus: Twitter terms seem to permit "shadowbanning," the case for Craigslist sex ads, and more…

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Blaming everyone but Kamala Harris for her presidential campaign's collapse. The conversation surrounding Kamala Harris' exit from the 2020 presidential race has been reaching some ridiculous places since the California senator announced she was dropping out yesterday. Harris herself blamed billionaires, basically, while supporters and pundits expanded the blame to also include sexism, racism, biased media coverage, and other issues beyond the candidate or her campaign's control.

If you're wondering whether Democrats picked up any introspection since Hillary Clinton's 2016 loss was chalked up to sexism, racism, third parties, Bernie bros, and such…the signs aren't looking so good.

On social media and cable news, commentators keep coming back to alleged advantages enjoyed by other candidates—personal wealth, less scrutiny of their criminal justice records, etc.—to supposedly explain why Harris was forced to exit early (and to complain how unfair it is that folks like Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar remain in the race).

But all of these explanations fall apart with the slightest scrutiny. Whatever setbacks Harris may have faced based on her race and sex, they pale in comparison to the challenges she and her campaign staffers brought upon themselves.

Staff and supporters have cited the senator's strategy, debate performances, and the flaws of her top advisors for why the campaign failed to sustain either popular or establishment liberal support.

The campaign certainly got its share of support from corporations and rich donors to start with, sustaining Harris through several Democratic debate cycles. So, the fact that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be able to "buy his way in" to the upcoming debate by blasting the nation with a concentrated bout of self-funded campaign ads hardly seems like the stinging indictment that some want it to be.

Get back to me if Bloomberg and all his cash have any shot at getting near the White House—or even a second debate stage. But for now, Bloomberg's brief moment in the spotlight means nothing, and it's especially absurd to suggest he somehow knocked Harris out of the polls. Her numbers had been steadily declining for months before Bloomberg entered the race.

Some people have taken to blaming the "Kamala Harris is a cop" meme and any criticism of the former prosecutor and state attorney general's criminal justice record, while positioning these things as unfair gotchas, and maybe even racist. The Independent offers a particularly bad example of this, one that characterizes "Kamala is a cop" criticisms as springing forth in response to her surging popularity and not something that many leftists and libertarians had been saying for a long time.

Others complain that Harris isn't the only former drug warrior and tough-on-crime politician and yet, for instance, Amy Klobuchar, the senator from Minnesota, hasn't seen the same level of scrutiny over her prosecutor past. Former Vice President Joe Biden hasn't been hit constantly for the 1994 Crime Bill (though he has been hit some).

Most of the candidates have some bad criminal justice points on their records, of course. Klobuchar, Biden, and others should have to answer for their carceral ways (with Biden's burden bearing more recent examples than the crime bill, for what it's worth). But Harris is the only candidate who explicitly positioned her campaign around law-and-order themes, running with the tagline "Kamala Harris, For the People" (a callback to her time as a district attorney) and repeatedly emphasizing her "progressive" prosecutor past.

Harris all but wore a big sandwich board sign saying "ASK ME ABOUT MY HISTORY AS A COP" and then was completely unprepared when anyone did, with the campaign blaming bigotry for folks noticing the very things Harris herself kept harping on.

A lot of Harris fans are holding out hope that she'll find a spot on someone's ticket as a vice president. But this may be a bit delusional, considering the spectacular flaming out of her campaign and the fact that both Harris and her people seem to divide more than they unite.

Harris could have technically held on a little longeras Anna Massoglia of Open Secrets points out, she had more than $10 million in funds left. There's still time for her to qualify for the next debate. A candidate with her credentials and hype could, with the right messaging, still outlast the likes of Tom Steyer and exit respectably closer to the top of the tier.

Choosing to leave now is a strategic decision—no more need to attack potential future allies, no need to fumble around with wishy-washy messaging any longer—since all those excess campaign donations can now go to Harris' next senate race.

Biden said he had "mixed feelings" about Harris' campaign ending. "She is a first-rate intellect, a first-rate candidate and a real competitor," he told ABC News.


FREE MINDS

Twitter's new terms of service (TOS) contain some cause for worry. "The changes amount to about 10 lines scattered through the 12-page document," notes XBIZ. "While some of them are mere clarifications from the previous TOS, and one paragraph concerns the Twitter Vulnerability Reporting Program, there's one change in the terms of service that should concern those interested in the company's control over the content that one's followers see. In a nutshell: Twitter has explicitly reserved the right to shadowban, under the legalese of 'limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service.'"

In the current TOS, Twitter reserves the right "to create limits on use and storage at our sole discretion at any time" and to "remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you."

The new TOS adds to this the right to "limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service."


FREE MARKETS

The economic case for sex work decriminalization. As the debate over decriminalizing prostitution becomes louder and "part of a broader rethinking of the criminal justice system," opponents still worry "that prostitution is inherently violent and decriminalization would worsen the exploitation of women." But "economic evidence—and theory" says otherwise, writes Karl Smith at Bloomberg Opinion. Smith looks at a study from economists Scott Cunningham, Gregory DeAngelo, and John Tripp:

Economists studied Craigslist, which from 2002 to 2010 gradually introduced an "erotic services" section that allowed sex workers to advertise directly and anonymously on the internet. The staggered rollout allowed the economists to measure the impact on each market as the service expanded. As expected, the market for sex workers expanded rapidly. More important, according to the 2019 paper, the expansion of Craigslist into a market "led to a 10% to 17% reduction in female homicides." To be clear, that figure is not homicides among sex workers —  which are difficult to measure in real time — but homicides among all women in the area.

This result so astounded the economists that they performed some tests to validate it. It passed them all. Moreover, effects have been demonstrated in other studies. Decriminalization in even parts of a city is associated with double-digit declines in sexual assault. A 2014 study of an inadvertent decriminalization of indoor sex work in Rhode Island from 2003 to 2009 found it resulted in a 30% drop in rapes. This isn't mere correlation: Both the Rhode Island and Craigslist studies use several methods designed to identify causation.

More here.


QUICK HITS

  • Today, the House Judiciary Committee considering President Donald Trump's impeachment "plans to hear from four constitutional scholars about the historical underpinnings of the process," according to The Washington Post.
  • The long tail of responsibility for sex trafficking continues to grow, with a new lawsuit attempting to hold the email marketing service Mailchimp legally responsible for exploitation because it sent an email about a website where an alleged trafficker would later post.
  • A Los Angeles police officer left his body camera on while fondling the breasts of a dead woman.
  • "More than two dozen correctional officers in Baltimore were charged Tuesday with using excessive force on prisoners at state-operated jails," the Associated Press reports.