Updated: Oct 19, 2021
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On August 11th, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected California Senator Kamala Harris to be his vice-presidential running mate. Despite running against her in the Democratic primaries, Biden embraced his former rival after she expressed support for him following the end of her presidential campaign. Biden’s announcement instigated an atmosphere of excitement and controversy throughout the United States. The former prosecutor is the first Black woman in history to be on a major ticket, marking a monumental landmark for the Black community and women around the country. However, Harris has a controversial past that has caused many people to question Biden’s decision. In Lenses 5th edition of “A Bit of Nuance,” staff editors Samir Chowdhury and Sarah Firdaus provide voters information about both sides of the argument so that they can determine whether or not they support Biden’s pick.Kamala Harris is a Suitable Pick For VP Sarah FirdausKamala Harris Is Not an Impressive Pick Samir ChowdhuryOn History: Kamala Harris Knows How to Get Work Done Kamala Harris has broken the glass ceiling on various accounts. She was the first Black female to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney, she is the first woman of color to be California’s attorney general, and the first South Asian-American Senator in the United States. Her no-nonsense attitude and intense interrogations make her one of the most powerful prosecutors in the country. In 1990, Harris was hired as deputy district attorney in Alameda County where she specialized in prosecuting child sexual assault cases. Years late, Harris co-founded the Coalition to End the Exploitation of Kids, which was an organization that denounced child prostitution. In 1998, Harris was hired to be the assistant district attorney and in 2004 she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She was the Chief of the Career Criminal Division and started a task force for girls who were in the sex trade. Instead of labeling the girls as criminals and incarcerating them, she emphasized their victim status. Harris also worked to combat human trafficking in California and took a “preliminary step toward a coordinated response to trafficking.” When Harris was a criminal prosecutor, she positioned herself as being in line with the progressive movement and her goal was to make criminal justice less harsh and racist. She has fought time and time again to better the criminal justice system and has implemented numerous reforms throughout her career. She launched prison diversion programs and initiated the first Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (“POST”) certified law enforcement training on both procedural justice and implicit bias. Harris has also launched Back on Track (BOT), which provides young adults being charged with their first felony offense a formal sentencing and opportunities to improve. While some of her contributions as a prosecutor have led critics to deny her progressive identity, Harris’s work illustrated that her views have moved closer to those of modern progressives. A public defender who worked with Harris in California also claims that she was the most progressive DA in California. When she was running for president, Harris released a plan to transform the criminal justice system and re-envision public safety in America. She has also introduced a bail reform bill and tried to decriminalize marijuana and initiate a federal tax, which would provide aid to people who were convicted of marijuana possession in the past. Moreover, she created the open data initiative, OpenJustice, joined top Congressional Democrats in unveiling the Justice in Policing Act, and joined hands with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to introduce climate “equity” legislation. It’s true. Harris has made decisions that have contradicted her previous statements. However, the fact that Harris’s viewpoints have changed over time doesn’t mean that she is a hypocrite, it simply means that she acquired more knowledge and took decisions that were fueled by experience. On History: Kamala Harris’s Past Clashes with her Present Kamala Harris’s history as a prosecutor clashes with her more recent brand as a “progressive prosecutor.” The decisions she’s made in the past reflect the conservative end of the political spectrum, including the approval of the death penalty, marijuana illegalization, and failure to hold police accountable. In 2004, in the position of California Attorney General, Harris declined two ballot initiatives that would have outlawed the death penalty. But earlier in the year when a man had killed a police officer in San Francisco, she declined to pursue the death penalty, acting completely contradictory to her own stance. Moreover, she overlooked wrongfully convicted people behind bars rather than giving them the opportunity of a new trial with competent and fair counsel; one of these cases involved a person on death row. Furthermore, when asked whether marijuana should be legalized, Harris “laughed.” Not only does Harris avoid establishing her stance on another one of the nation’s most controversial topics, but her laughing in response also suggests she believes against it. The topic of marijuana legalization has been associated with the progressive era. With her brand of a “progressive prosecutor,” this raises another contradiction between her actions and what she attempts to present to the public. In 2015, when Harris was called upon by the Legislative Black Caucus to support legislation that would require all police officers to wear body cameras, she declined. Similarly, when called upon again to support mandating the Attorney General’s office to investigate officer-involved shootings with lethal outcomes, she declined again. With the prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement and its stance against police brutality, Harris’s history suggests that she is against holding police officers accountable for misconduct. This is yet another instance of her history clashing with her seemingly-progressive brand. Harris has insisted that she has “always been a reformer of a broken system.” And yet, she’s championed a law that punished parents who failed to send their children to school and made truancy a misdemeanor. Additionally, she has supported a system “that locks up people who are too poor to post exorbitant money bail”—another policy that disproportionately affects poor people and communities of color and exacerbates the “broken system.” Throughout Harris’s history, she has been inconsistent with many of the nation’s most controversial issues and has often contradicted the progressive brand she presents to the country, which raises red flags on whether she’ll truly advocate for progressive ideals. On The Presidential Campaign: How Harris Helps Biden Voters have approved Biden’s decision to pick Harris as his running mate. Honestly, Biden and Harris are the perfect pair to challenge Trump and Pence and Biden’s decision was smart, moreover, calculated. Harris makes Biden look good. Not only does she stand out, but she also perfectly balances the Democratic ticket. Biden’s decision to pick Harris for such a position was historic. Harris has a dual background, as she is a member of both the African American and South Asian community, which means that she will represent the sentiments of both communities. In fact, Indians are celebrating Biden’s pick. She will inspire a high level of Black and South Asian turnout. Her ability to mobilize African Americans and young voters will aid Biden in states like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia, where Hillary Clinton lost votes when she was running for president in 2016. At 55 years old, Harris represents a younger generation of voters. She is also well-known and has experience as California’s Attorney General and U.S. Senator. Harris being from California is another great advantage to Biden. With 55 electoral votes, California is considered “the most important state on election day” and provides numerous Democratic votes and donors. Harris has won millions of individual votes in the past, and she has been successful in raising large sums of money. Arguably, the most important aspect of Harris is that she raised conversations about race and sought ways to reform the policing system in the U.S. after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter Movement that followed the killing of George Floyd. Her behavior in combating the issue was a stark contrast to President Trump’s. On The Presidential Campaign: How Harris Hurts Biden In regards to aiding Biden’s nomination, she doesn’t do much to help the ticket. From a geographical perspective, she doesn’t aid Biden’s Electoral College math. California is already a primarily blue state and even though running mates don’t reliably deliver their home states, Biden could’ve used a lift in other states. For example, Tammy Baldwin would give Biden a lift in Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown would give Biden a similar boost in Ohio. However, some may argue that from an optics perspective, especially with the resurged prevalence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Harris would be a strong choice due to their ethnicity . In theory, Harris would surely have a special appeal to African American voters. However, in practice, it has been seen that this theory hasn’t always come to fruition. This is exactly what occurred in South Carolina, which has a significantly large African American population. During the Democratic primaries, Harris actually polled behind Pete Buttigieg in the state. However, the aforementioned Black Lives Matter movement and recent protests over police brutality and institutional racism in law enforcement may also serve as a weakness to Harris and Biden’s campaign. This is due to Harris law enforcement background where she has consistently sided with police over suspects, even in cases where suspects may have been wrongfully convicted. This weakness was exemplified during Harris’s presidential campaign, where people, on several occasions, were quick to call her out; shouting “Harris is a cop.” Although Harris has advocated for law-enforcement reform, her past actions have spurred doubts within the Democratic party. On The Future of the Presidency: Harris’s Nomination Allows the Democratic Party to Hold the White House When Biden made the safe decision to select Harris, he displayed his vision of her as president in the future. If Biden wins in November, he may only serve one term as president. Even though there is no maximum age restriction to run for president, a 78-year-old Biden is most probably not going to be running again, which means that Harris will be the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee after the upcoming election, most probably even if Biden loses. The last five Democratic vice presidents have gone on to win their party’s nomination for president, which puts Harris in a good position if her and Biden win. If Harris runs in 2024 and Pence is her opposition, she has a good chance of winning. The only real criticisms she faces are from Democrats, a lot of Republicans support her previous actions, which makes her “a tough target for Republicans.” On The Future of the Presidency: Harris’s Nomination Risks a Republican in the White House With Harris now well-positioned to win the future Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in either 2024 or 2028, it is important to address future implications of Biden’s pick. The country has recently witnessed Joe Biden transitioning from Vice President to now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. Thus, many are now envisioning a similar path for Harris. However, although she will likely win a future nomination, she is unlikely to win the general election; this risks having a Republican in the oval office. Harris’s inability to run a successful campaign was demonstrated in her most recent presidential campaign. After entering the race at 15% of support in the polls and second place behind Biden, she dropped down under 4% nationally by the time she dropped out. Furthermore, according to Harvard-Harris and Economist-YouGov polls, she was shown to be 12 points underwater with the general public. The fact that she ever polled so poorly in the national spotlight in conjunction with the underperformance of her past campaign and a near loss to a Republican in a statewide race in California in 2010 gives some cause for concern to her capability to carry the Democratic party to a victory in the future.