Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Kamala II: Maiden voyage in Iowa


THE ROLLOUT OF the Kamala Harris 2020 campaign was powerful, eloquent, and convincing, but it was all on her terms — and her turf. The Jan. 28 CNN town hall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, was her real coming-out party: an event that put her in a one-on-one footing with some of the savviest, smartly political citizens in this nation.

Harris brought the A games of her policy ideas and her personality to an unpredictable venue. To go from reactions from those in the hall and the punditburo around America, she more than held her own.

The candidate fielded a broad range of questions from the moderator, CNN’s Jake Tapper, but mostly from the various Iowans in Sheslow Auditorium.

Did she support the principles of a Green New Deal, popularized by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? “I support a Green New Deal and I will tell you why. Climate change is an existential threat and we have got to deal with the reality of it.”

“We have got to deal with the reality of the fact that there are people trying to peddle some ideas that we should deny it. They are peddling science fiction instead of what we should do, which is rely on science fact,” she said.

“Our planet is at great risk ... we have policymakers who are in the pockets of big oil and big coal (and) don't fully appreciate the fact that we are looking at something that is presenting an existential threat to our country.

“And listen, all children need to be able to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and we've got to have a commitment to a policy that will allow that to happen for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. And right now we don't.”


HOW TO DEAL with gun violence? “You know, here's the thing. We have got to have smart gun safety laws in this country. And we've got to stop buying this false choice. You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand that there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers.

“Something like universal background checks. It makes perfect sense that you might want to know before someone can buy a weapon that can kill another human being, you might want to know, have they been convicted of a felony where they committed violence? That's just reasonable.

“You might want to know, before they can buy that gun, if a court has found them to be a danger to themselves or others. You just might want to know. That's reasonable.”

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One witheringly to-the-point question, from Drake senior Riley Fink, could have been the blindsiding blow no one saw coming:

“You have positioned yourself as in line with the progressive movement to make criminal justice less punitive and racist, yet your record as a prosecutor shows that you embraced the tough-on-crime mentality. You’ve defended California’s death penalty, and as California’s Attorney General your office opposed the release of non-violent prisoners and violated the constitutional rights of various drug defendants. How do you reconcile your contradictory past with what you claim to support today?”

The question has its antecedents in American political drama. How would John Kennedy deal with the nagging issue of his Catholicism in 1960? How would Richard Nixon handle the persistent investigation of possible improprieties tied to political campaign expenses in 1952? Fink’s question invited Harris to make her own Checkers speech, her own plenary statement about a potentially hobbling issue. She parked that fat pitch in the center-field bleachers.

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MY CAREER has been based on an understanding, one, that as a prosecutor my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected, and that is why I have personally prosecuted violent crimes that include rape, child molestation, and homicide,” she said.

“I have also worked my entire career to reform the criminal justice system, understanding to your point, that it is deeply flawed and in need of repair,” she added. “Which is why as Attorney General, for example, I led the [California] Department of Justice…and implemented the first of its kind in the nation implicit bias and procedural justice training for police officers.”

“I created an initiative back when I was District Attorney…and this is the 90s and the early 2000s…back when there was a tough on crime mentality, and I created one of the first in the nation initiatives that was focused on reentering former offenders by getting them jobs and training and counseling,” she said.

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Then Harris went straight for the deeply divisive issue of the death penalty. “I am personally opposed to the death penalty, I have always been opposed to the death penalty and that’s not going to change. It is a flawed system, it is applied unequally based on race and based on income. It is something that we know is flawed in that we know it is a final judgment but we have seen many cases where DNA has proven that the person that was sentenced to death was not in fact guilty. And it is something that frankly costs the taxpayers of this country a lot of money.”

“We all realize it’s a deeply flawed system, but we also want to make sure that when a woman is raped, a child is molested, one human being is killed by another human being we also want to make sure there’s consequence, and serious consequence for those crimes.”

Your move, Riley.

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WHEN THE town hall was over, Harris capitalized on her obvious enthusiasm. Even as the applause continued, Harris walked to the side of the stage. “Can I go down now?” She shouted over to Tapper, asking for permission to go shake hands with the crowd, taking pictures with the people, taking the temperature of the room.

Paul Begala, CNN commentator and longtime Democratic party fixture, was upbeat, tweeting: “In tonight’s #CNNTownHall, @KamalaHarris was substantive without being pedantic, empathetic without being saccharine, authentic without being, well, inauthentic. Impressive performance.”

A big objective for the Democratic Party making plans for 2020 has been to find a candidate who can “beat Donald Trump.” That spongy imperative, that imprecise goal is by definition something arrived at through application of emotional metrics — strength, toughness, the je ne sais quoi of what Feels Right in the voting booth.

In just a few days, Kamala Harris has demonstrated she has that quality, a major asset as she prepares to build an audience for that inevitable extended residency in Iowa. Somewhere, Chris Matthews' leg is tingling.

Image credits: Harris: CNN. Nixon 1952: public domain.

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