Kamala Harris’s decision to drop out of the Democratic race is a victory for another candidate who supposedly has no chance of winning and shouldn’t even be on the same stage with the real contenders. But Tulsi Gabbard’s demolition job on poor Kamala shows why a well-aimed ideological thrust is more important than any number of silly opinion polls telling experts what they want to hear.
Just ask the New York Times. In a major front-page takeout, it noted that Harris’s troubles began when she failed to “respond sharply to an attack on her prosecutorial record from Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, even after Ms. Harris had been prepped for the topic.
“On a conference call after the debate,” the article went on, “several of Ms. Harris’s donors were alarmed and urged the campaign to strike back at Ms. Gabbard more aggressively, two people on the call said. Ms. Harris also knew her response had been insufficient, a view quickly reinforced by her advisers. In interviews, many of them point to that debate moment as accelerating Ms. Harris’s decline….”
Quite right. The July 30 confrontation began when Joe Biden, in his usual stumbling fashion, mumbled something about Harris’s failure to tackle school segregation while serving as California’s attorney general. While everyone tried to figure out what “Sleepy Joe” was getting at, Harris seized the opportunity to go on about “the important work” she did reforming California’s broken criminal justice system.
But then it was Gabbard’s turn, and the results were almost frightening. “Now Senator Harris says she’s proud of her record as a prosecutor and that she’ll be a prosecutor president,” she began in that steely calm way of hers.
“But I’m deeply concerned about this record. There are too many examples to cite, but she put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until the courts forced her to do so. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California. And she fought to keep [a] bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.”
The audience roared. All Harris could muster in response was more guff about how hard she worked at “significantly reforming the criminal justice system” instead of serving “in a legislative body and giv[ing] speeches on the floor” – which was strange coming from someone who is currently a member of a legislative body known as the US Senate, where her job presumably includes giving speeches on the floor.
It was all Harris could come up with because everything Gabbard said was true. Harris indeed prosecuted hundreds of marijuana cases and then cackled about smoking pot herself on a morning radio show. “I have,” she laughed, “and I did inhale.” (Quote starts at 36:35.) She blocked DNA tests sought by a death-row inmate named Kevin Cooper as the New York Times reported last year and, amazingly enough, argued in response to a 2014 lawsuit that California needed to keep nonviolent offenders in overcrowded state prisons because it needed them as a source of cheap labor. And, yes, she increased cash bail according an article in Business Insider.
Indeed, Gabbard could have gone about other things Harris did, such as supporting California’s barbaric three-strikes law, which puts people away for life for offenses like shoplifting and minor burglaries, or threatening to send poor people to jail because their kids are skipping school. But enough was enough. Gabbard’s sally sent Harris’s poll numbers on a downhill slide from which they never recovered.
So Harris’s withdrawal is a major victory for someone the experts told voters to ignore and a serious embarrassment for those who most deserve it. It also demonstrates at least two important political truths.
One is that polls are not the last word. After predicting a big win for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Nate Silver’s poll-heavy FiveThirtyEight website committed a similar blunder last January by declaring that Harris would “be among the strongest contenders in the 2020 Democratic field” because “no other candidate … better embodies how the modern Democratic Party has changed over the last few decades in identity and ideology.” That may have been what the polls seemed to indicate. But what Silver & Co. forgot is that polls tell only half the story and that the other half is no less important because it concerns tactics and ideology. Because this is Gabbard’s forte as she rails against “regime-change wars” that accomplish nothing other than death and destruction, she didn’t show up on FiveThirtyEight’s radar screen while a corrupt centrist like Harris did.
The other truth it demonstrates is that voters are sick of lies and hypocrisy. Harris epitomizes Democratic politicians who think it’s clever to spout liberal platitudes while governing increasingly from the right. All it took, therefore, was for Gabbard to point out the obvious contradiction in her rhetoric for her campaign to fizzle like a pricked balloon
Honesty is Gabbard’s other forte. Check out the 90-second campaign ad she made for Bernie Sanders in 2016 – it shows the kind of power and sincerity that will be increasingly critical in the coming election. Or take a look at her response when Hillary Clinton labeled her a Russian agent: “This is a dangerous message that’s being sent to the American people that if anyone, any veteran, any service member … speaks out for ending these regime change wars … this is how they will be treated.” It was angry and passionate and sure to resonate with growing portions of the electorate.
Finally, check out her recent two-minute video calling for the release of all documents pertaining to the World Trade Center. “It has been nearly twenty years since al-Qaeda attacked us on 9/11,” she says, “and the American people still don’t have access to the truth about Saudi Arabia and who helped al-Qaeda carry out these deadly attacks.” She’s right, the great Saudi coverup is the scandal of the century, and Americans – especially working-class Americans who have suffered most from such policies – know it. This counts more than countless op-eds about her alleged lack of “electability” or snide attacks by timid liberals over at Saturday Night Live.
It’s why, once the dust settles, Gabbard and Sanders will be the only two Democrats left in the ring. Both have their own baggage. But for now, they’re the only ones honest enough to tell voters not what they want to hear, but what they need to know. Voters will reward them for doing so.
Daniel Lazare is an American freelance journalist, publicist and blogger.
Originally published in Strategic Culture online journal. The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.