Calculating Kamala, Continued

Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) campaigns in San Francisco, Calif., June 1, 2019. (Stephen Lam/Reuters)

Kamala Harris made her first big splash in the presidential race at the first Democratic debate by suggesting Joe Biden might have been a racist in the 1970s, even though she insisted that she wasn’t saying he was racist.

Harris initially followed the logic of her attack on Biden’s opposition to federally mandated busing in the 1970s to its natural conclusion: embracing federally mandated busing to end de facto segregation in America’s public schools today. “I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school,” Harris said on June 30. “Where states fail to do their duty to ensure equality of all people and in particular where states create or pass legislation that created inequality, there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.”

But by July 3, the Associated Press reported, Harris seemed back off her support for federally mandated busing in favor of school districts voluntarily implementing busing policies (which is Biden’s position). On July 4, Harris continued to hedge on federally mandated busing — with comments suggesting she only supported it in districts with de jure segregation (which is also Biden’s position). The New York Times reported:

Sen. Kamala Harris on Thursday clarified her position on federally mandated school busing, saying it’s only necessary in cases where local governments are actively opposing integration.

Harris said that in the 1960s and ’70s, institutions “were literally working against integration of our schools.” That’s why she supported busing then, she said, but now thinks it should just be a “tool” available to local governments and school districts to address segregation.

“Today it is very rare that we require the courts or the federal government to intervene,” Harris told reporters Thursday before a campaign event in Indianola, Iowa.

Harris’s hedging on busing is a lot like her hedging on Medicare for All. She wants to attack Biden on busing with paying the price of embracing a deeply unpopular policy of imposing busing today. She wants to say she’s on Bernie’s side on health care without acknowledging Medicare for All would abolish almost all private insurance. 

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But today was a good day for Harris. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez provided the California senator a good opportunity for triangulation that doesn’t involve any policies at all. The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Kamala D. Harris defended House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an interview that aired Friday, saying she has found her fellow California Democrat to be “very respectful of women of color,” an assessment at odds with comments earlier this week by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

During an appearance on the New York-based radio show “The Breakfast Club,” Harris was asked about Ocasio-Cortez’s assertion in a Washington Post interview that Pelosi had been “just outright disrespectful” with “the explicit singling out of newly elected women of color.”

“That’s not my experience with Nancy Pelosi,” said Harris, a Democratic presidential primary hopeful. “And I’ve known her and worked with her for years. I’ve known her to be very respectful of women of color and very supportive of them.”

Yes, we have reached the point in the Democratic primary where saying Nancy Pelosi is not a racist (but suggesting Joe Biden might be) qualifies as occupying the middle ground.

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