Sen. Kamala Harris Seeks Presidency With A ‘Clear-Eyed’ Agenda of Nation’s Priorities

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Sen. Kamala Harris Announced For President Sunday in Oakland, Calif., (Saul Loeb, Getty Images)

By Kevin C. Peterson

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris kicked-off her campaign for president Sunday — catapulting herself into the race for her party’s nomination against the presumed republican candidate Donald Trump in 2020.

Harris’ seemingly quixotic campaign adventure comes after having spent only two years in the senate, leading some pundits to comment that the dearth of her political experience may present a liability. Others contend that Harris’ timing is advantageous, noting that former president Barack Obama also ran for the White House in the midst of his first term in the senate. This allowed Obama to escape branding as a Washington insider; it’s a calculating pragmatic ploy that may also work for Harris.

From some political quarters, Harris has been called the next Obama. Like Obama she is of a mixed-race background. Her father is Jamaican-American; her mother, the daughter of a diplomat, is from India. She is also a lawyer with the solid bona fides of an activist, and possesses an expansive intelligence that cuts through the fog of trivialities. And Harris, a Howard University graduate, identifies as been being African American — a choice which has her poised as potentially the first black woman president.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values. That’s why I am running for president,” said Harris in a pre-announcement video posted on Youtube last week.

For sure, Harris brings toughness and grit into the race. As a former district attorney in Oakland and Attorney General for California, Harris rarely blinks in public and evinces a tough demeanor directed at social and political inequity. She has honed an ability to come off as folksy and formidable, high performing but at the sametime engagingly accesible.

During her campaign announcement at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland on Sunday Harris expertly weaved through the multiple narratives that highlight her complex and extraordinary talents as an incisive thinker who shows an affinity toward populist politics.

Brandishing her Oakland roots, Harris displayed her identity with progressive politics in her speech that catered to the protection of crime victims, debt-free college, healthcare reform and working class tax cuts “to make ends meet.”

She then went on to embrace the Black Lives Matters credo, proffering this: “I am running to fight for an America where no mother or father have to teach their young son that people might stop him, arrest him, chase him or kill him because of his race.” It was a line uttered with a sort of emotional authenticity that Obama could never reach during his presidency.

Harris enters the season’s election fray full of aspiration and without any obvious reservation. She communicates with her audience with conviviality and gravitas at the same time, and uses her natural mannerisms to convey vulnerability and an enormous empathy.

Harris may be tested on her record as a fair prosecutor, as an opinion piece charged in the New York Times last week. An essay on the website, AfroPunk, is more acerbic, but perhaps unfairly so: It describes Harris-the-prosecutor as willfully abetting the carceral state which has disproportionally locked black men in jail over the last 5 decades. Sen. Hillary Clinton, in her 2016 presidential run, faced similar charges of stigmatizing black men for endorsing the super-predator theory that demonized African-American males and condemned them to prison.

Numerous democratic candidates are planning join Harris for the run for the presidency. So she may also have to vigorously defend against having an almost bare legislative record on the national stage.

But Harris possesses what some voters perceive as an capability to galvanize the nation with her fresh voice, fulsome charisma and an unflinching propensity to advance generational change. The 20,000 supporters who flocked to her rally this weekend sense in Harris an ability to break gender barriers and transcend politics as normal.

Kevin Peterson is founder of the New Democracy Coalition and Convener of the Fanueil Hall Race and Reconciliation Project. He is a social and cultural critic.

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