This is part two and the final part of a dual post about Kamala Harris’s January 2019 autobiography in light of her nomination as VP for Joe Biden for the 2020 election.
The Back Nine
As Harris moves away from her early experience gathering in law, her personal anecdotes begin to fade away as well, which shifts the topics of the book more towards the issues at large. In the back half of the book, you’ll see plenty more statistics and more taking on some of the issues head on. I will say that, after finishing the book this morning, I find that I agree with most, if not everything she has to say here. Her dedication to the ordinary American continues as she tackles immigration, healthcare, drug addiction, the cost of living, and high tuition costs. Towards the end she discusses her time on the Senate Intelligence Committee and climate change. She ends with some careful advice that I believe speaks readily to the moment we face in the year 2020.
Where she had little to remark on personally concerning the issue of marriage equality, she arrives full force for immigration. This is most likely due to her parents’ histories as immigrants in their ability to flourish. Recognizing the sheer wealth provided by immigrant labor to the state of California, she brings up the many issues of immigration and reminds you just what a tailspin the Trump presidency has been. Remember the travel ban? Remember the fight for DACA? Remember how they separated children? And more recently (and outside the scope of this book), remember how international students were told they could not return for college classes in the fall? While Harris is keen to bring up the long history of immigrant scapegoating in the United States, from rejecting Jews during the Holocaust to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, she also makes us aware of the recent “Northern Triangle” violence of Latin American countries, causing a dramatic surge of young immigrants through Mexico.
This is not necessarily new: in the rapid globalization and industrial revolutions at the turnover of our previous century, migrations in labor were the side effect of work displacement, and it caused not only a nationalistic bent in politics, nativism and xenophobia, but also culminated in World War I.
These conflicts are not immutable, though it is the particular worry of those interested in international affairs whether this could happen again. Whether it is due to neoliberal economics, populist politicians, or climate change’s wreaking havoc and creating “climate refugees,” this is a problem that will not go away. And even the most egalitarian nations, like Denmark, have had a hard time being as egalitarian when it comes to foreigners wanting a home.
Harris takes the immigration issue in small battles, fighting each of these decisions of the Trump administration and rejecting outright the idea of building a wall.
In a brief aside, before I move on, we see Harris give a nod to the press for their work in showing the country the horrors of separating children at the border. She believes that the country flourishes on “four legs.” These are the three branches of government and a free press. Contrasting the explicit opposition by Donald Trump of the free press, Harris’s healthy respect for inquiry is not to be ignored.
Even if coronavirus had not hit as hard as it did in the United States, healthcare still would have been the most pressing domestic issue of our time. I cannot think of a single person who has not dealt with the headaches and bloated costs of premiums, coverage, prescriptions, and surgeries. It seems as though the only people who can lay claim to being satisfied with healthcare in the United States are those who are lucky in their genes, wealthy enough to eat in a consistently healthy way, given enough disposable time to physically train themselves out of destitution, and employed in a salaried position that provides a premium just under their property tax cost.
To imagine the percentage of Americans this actually consists of would be to enter the carnival funhouse while high on LSD.
Harris provides one of her final anecdotes: her mother dying of cancer. It is here where the organization of the book takes a step down, as she attempts to maneuver from issue to issue and struggles to provide connective tissue. That is no knock against her ideas and against the statistics. She has plenty to say, particularly in the disproportionate effects of poor healthcare on African Americans. She cites kidney dialysis as one such obvious example, but eventually brings up the opioid crisis as one that is all-encompassing, regardless of race. Harris reminds us that the issue has gotten so bad as to cite that Pfizer had ceased neuroscience research. Luckily, Pfizer has also introduced neuro-therapies since then, but let that concept sink in.
This is a pet project of mine, if only because my wife, a victim of a specifically niche neuro-degenerative disease, would have a hard time staying alive if certain treatments were not given “orphan drug” status. To invite the idea into one’s head that medical companies have little intention of going after diseases because they are not profitable is so odious to me.
She goes on the attack here against Republicans for attempting to cut down the Affordable Care Act, or at least minimize its benefits. Some other minor anecdotes, like the mention of a friend who became pregnant, only to be denied coverage because her pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition, is unfortunately too common to be laughed away.
It is likely, because of the coronavirus pandemic, that this issue will take center stage in November, regardless of opinion among citizens and representatives. But as far as finding any source of surprise in discrepancy between Harris and the default left-leaning ideology, there is little new here.
Cost of Living
The next section is most likely her messiest. She takes this opportunity, much like music artists do in the penultimate sections of albums, to put their weakest points across.
These are not issues to be trivialized, but they are sort of thrown in a basket that shows that Harris is willing to acknowledge them, but does not have the time or experience to expand on them.
These are all issues that affect ordinary citizens and the loss of the middle class. They include low wages, outsourcing and offshoring of jobs, college tuition costs, net neutrality, artificial intelligence replacing jobs (notably truck drivers), and automation.
…and also climate change.
The most important nugget to get out of this section is her advocating a “middle class tax relief” plan which offers financial incentives to those entering the middle class bracket. She hopes to give the middle class a chance to thrive, and would like instead to retrieve that lost public funding from rich people and corporations.
No argument there.
But in an environment, especially in Europe, where no one on either side has any intention of lowering taxes, it is a surprising find. I know little beyond my high school economics class and Thomas Piketty’s research concerning wealth inequality to really comment beyond these words here. So I’ll keep my mouth shut.
As part of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Harris makes several references to her views on Russian hacking, enhanced interrogation techniques, and the issue of climate change which came up on the Senate floor in her questioning of Mike Pompeo.
She believes that previous enhanced interrogation techniques were deplorable, and when she repeatedly asked Gina Haspel about whether she found the techniques, in hindsight, to be immoral as well, Haspel could not answer directly.
Harris is worried about the state of our national security in the form of foreign meddling in not just political affairs, but also in economic procedures as well. She decries that much of our technology in public institutions have become sorely dated, and as such pose great risk. With the Internet of Things (IoT) becoming online, it may be easier than ordinary citizens realize to hack into existing infrastructures in order to encourage blackouts, for example.
Harris cannot reveal everything she has worked on, for obvious classified reasons, but her demeanor in these topics is to the point, and her resolve to strengthen American national security infrastructures, but to do so in an ethical way, highlights the nuance she brought to her time in the criminal justice system.
Advice on Issues and Final Takeaways.
Harris concludes by offering a bit of advice that is similar to…oddly enough, John Updike’s writing style. Updike was known to “give the mundane its beautiful due,” and that is the tact that Harris hopes to convey in her final chapter. For many American citizens, the prevailing notion is that politics is a fight of ideals, and to a large extent it is. But while we wield swords with CAPITALISM or SOCIALISM written on them, the truth is that politics is much more detail-oriented. It is the small, not the large, where real politics is carried out.
I was most surprised by the calls in this last chapter, and most impressed.
For four years, we have tried out an experiment in the United States of rejecting knowledge and experience. It has failed.
Love her or hate her, few can deny that, after finishing this book, that Kamala Harris is at the very least experienced. Her ongoing resume is intimidating. In each of these chapters, she has committed largely to the hopes and prayers of ordinary American citizens. In that way, she sort of represents an atavistic Democrat, one who does not speak to the highly specialized and literate culture of the “woke” portion of the United States, but to a nation of minorities and laborers to which our country most assuredly also belongs. Hopefully, in her time as a member of the Senate, and now as the vice presidential candidate, she has not forgotten the “kitchen table” politics that got her here, a politics that accounts for the needs and desires of the members outside of Loudoun County, Virginia, or Nassau County, New York.
Does her book become a substitute for further research on outside comments of her actions?
But in writing a book at all she is taking a risk. Putting your words down on paper shows that you have skin in the game. Skin being you have opinions worth making immortal, and the game is politics as it is played today. And I think what she proves here in this book is not only that her ideals resound with many on the desire to modernize our safety net for the median wage worker, but she also has the experience to find meticulous answers in a way that our current president and his cabinet do not.
So yes, I do believe so far that Kamala Harris has the right mind and work ethic for the job. She doesn’t like golf, that’s for sure.
Knowing my bias explicitly, please take the pleasure in finding out for yourself what you think of her. Hopefully this gives you a head start.