The Harris/Booker Conundrum - Pt. 1
Post by T. Connor
What a glorious time to be alive! Isn't it exciting to look forward to the 2020 Presidential Election?! The Democratic candidates are full of diversity and progressive glamour. As a black male, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker bring me a sense of pride and a unique excitement. I mean what are the odds that I get to witness a black woman and man competing for the top office in the land?! I couldn’t have asked for a better list of candidates to dethrone the King of the Spray Tan. Right?
Well, I thought that is how I would feel, but ya boy is torn. (Note: This post will be a solid mix of formal prose and colloquialisms, so be prepared. That’s just me.)
To be honest, I was a bit shocked at my lack of excitement and my “eh” reaction when both Kamala and Cory announced that they were throwing their names in the race. Internally, I asked questions. Am I wrong for feeling this way? Am I not for my people? Am I just over politics?
Soon I realized that those questions didn’t explain why I felt that way. Eventually, a new question emerged that gave me an “Aha Moment” as described by the Queen Oprah Winfrey. The one question that explained it all was this: Can I trust them?
I think this is a question that many black voters consider when contemplating political candidates. The policies and agendas of political leaders have always greatly shaped the lives of Black Americans throughout history. We can’t afford to take political chances and risks like White people can. Surprisingly, the excitement and opportunity of putting President Obama and his family in the White House created a moment where we could finally put our political guard down and, for the first time, take a chance.
However, due to the historic dominance of White men in the White House, we are not familiar with critiquing our own on such a stage. Since the departure of the Obamas and the arrival of the Trump Era, I have quickly awakened from the Dream I was in while President Obama was in office. I realized that the reason I felt slightly uncomfortable about not being hype when Harris and Booker announced, is because for the first time, I must be critical of my own people competing for a seat in the White House.
I am a believer that not everyone is meant to be President of the United States. I’d be the first to proclaim that Senators Booker and Harris have been outstanding in their roles on the U.S. Senate. They both strongly opposed many of Trump’s policies and have been a voice for many folks in our community.
However, does that automatically mean they would be a great President for The People? For Our People? No.
Naturally, my next steps were to dig deeper into both candidates. I wasn’t sure if I was doing this because it’s the right thing to do or because I was looking for a reason to trust them- or maybe both.
What I found next hasn't been sitting well with me. So, I thought I would create this post to share my thoughts on an issue I am having with both candidates- and maybe y’all can tell me if I’m buggin.
To begin, yes, I looked up all the major controversies surrounding both candidates. I read about Kamala’s questionable history as a District Attorney and Attorney General in California. She has supported policies that are both progressive and conservative while holding those positions (personally, her policy on truancy has been the most difficult pill for me to swallow). I’ve looked into Booker’s controversy surrounding Big Pharma and voting against legislation to lower the prices on prescription medication.
I have even listened to their most recent interviews on the Power 105.1's Breakfast Club (both can be found here: Kamala's Interview/ Cory's Interview) where Charlamagne tha God asked them both the question, “Do you have policies specifically for the black community?” Comparing both Harris and Booker's responses, Kamala answered the question directly. She highlighted specific policies surrounding the criminal justice system, supporting HBCUs, addressing maternal fatalities among black women (Booker briefly addressed this, too), and even giving the Attorney General power to investigate matters of police brutality (something that Obama had already done). Kamala also declared that she supports reparations for black people, openly discussed her experiences of smoking weed and ‘inhaling’, making greens with bacon, and being a fan of Cardi B. Booker, on the other hand, danced around the question and answered with, “I have a specific agenda for the American people.” We all know that agendas for the 'American' people usually have black folks at the bottom of that list. Now to be fair, Booker’s interview aired a few days before Harris’ interview. This means that Kamala had the opportunity to hear criticisms of Booker and make sure she didn’t make the same rhetorical mistakes.
Additionally, although Charlamagne asked similar questions to both candidates, he had a clear bias leaning in favor of Kamala, which is OK, but worth noting. Charlamagne bailed Kamala out by answering questions for her and honing in on specific talking points. One point in particular was when Charlamagne kept re-stating that Kamala’s truancy policy "did not actually result in arrests." This gave the sense that what she did was OK and not as serious as her critics claim. However, he is missing the point from critics that say that the very notion of a policy like this specifically harms black parents. She decided to use a law-and-order response for truancy which is a very nuanced and systemic issue. Essentially, her logic was that because there is a link between high school dropouts and criminal offending that the BEST response is to implement a policy that incarcerates parents whose children are missing elementary school. Not only is this idea anti-progressive (because progressives advocate for policies that are less reliant on the criminal justice system), but this type of response is dangerous. Her attempt to cover it up instead of addressing it head-on is a flagrant demonstration of political negligence.
Charlamagne's line of questioning may also turn out to be counterproductive to the overall success of Kamala. Connecting with a political candidate relies on principles similar to any type of relationship (whether it's friendship or romantic). You should be honest about your past and discuss how you grew from your mistakes and became a wiser person. A lack of honesty and transparency can breed distrust. For example, when Charlamagne asked Harris if she opposed legalizing marijuana and she replied "No." What they forgot to mention is that Kamala's response about her stance on marijuana represented her current views on the matter (Kamala's history on marijuana). In 2010, Kamala actually opposed the legalization of marijuana. In 2015, she changed her position and supported measures to legalize medicinal marijuana while keeping the recreational use of the drug illegal. It wasn't until 2018 that she has pushed for the complete legalization of marijuana (one could also wonder what took her so long to get to this point- since she openly admitted to using the drug recreationally).
The door now opens for her opponents to create a level of distrust among her supporters because they did not openly and accurately address her past stance on the legalization of marijuana (and other past policies). Kamala's opponents can and will put a spotlight on her past to create a narrative that she has not been completely honest (which is true for most politicians). Think of a time where you heard about a couple experiencing infidelity in their relationship. I'm sure most therapists (and any good set of friends) would tell the person who is guilty of cheating that when they confess about their transgressions, it is better to hear it from them rather than someone else. Although the pain from learning about the infidelity will hurt regardless, the way you find out also matters. I fear that because Kamala is not being completely honest about her past, her opponents will be the first to run and tell her supporters about her infidelity to the community, and by then, it will be too late.
Moving forward, after listening to both interviews, Kamala did a better job of addressing black issues and speaking directly to the black community than Cory Booker. The more compelling thing to watch is to see if she keeps that same energy in front of white audiences when it relates to black issues. Although many black folks watching Booker’s interview may be a bit disappointed, he is taking the safer political strategy. In other words, his message of having an “agenda for the American people” can be used in front of all audiences, without consequence. Therefore, he can never really be criticized for pandering or having an inconsistent message (not saying that this is right-just noting his strategy) . In order for Kamala to dodge that particular form of criticism, she, too, must keep her messaging consistent across all audiences, or it may be detrimental for her campaign. That means when she is in white spaces I expect to hear her love for Cardi B, greens, reparations, and supporting HBCUs. To be clear, I am supportive of Kamala’s demonstration of unapologetic blackness, but I am not certain if we will see this Kamala in front of all Americans (only time will tell). All-in-all, she is the candidate who is off to the better start between the two.
However, none of the issues described above have bothered as me as much as the one I am about to share with you now.
Below, you’ll notice an image with both the signatures of Senators Booker and Harris:
This is a letter that was written last Spring in opposition to the First Step Act - the criminal justice reform bill that President Orange recently signed into action on December 21, 2018. This bill is revered as a major step in the right direction for criminal justice reform and is propagated as a measure that will vastly reduce recidivism. Both, Harris and Booker, describe this bill as a major win and success during their recent political press runs. They, in fact, voted in favor of this bill. Well, I am sure you are wondering what I was wondering- what caused them to change their minds?
Well, what I found hasn’t been sitting well with me, and I’ll tell you why in part two of this post.
To Be Continued….