The Kamala ’24 Question

Kamala Harris
Photo by Jabin Botsford via Getty Images
Peter Hamby
November 24, 2021

If you’re jonesing for further proof that Kamala Harris makes for a touchy conversation topic—and heading into Thanksgiving, why wouldn’t you be?—look no further than the fifth paragraph of Mark Z. Barabak’s Nov. 12 column in the Los Angeles Times, the one titled Kamala Harris, the Incredible Disappearing Vice President. Barabak, a mustachioed, sleeve-tattooed Deadhead from NorCal, has covered politics for nearly half a century, with over a decade’s worth of knowledge about Harris dating back to her district attorney days in the Bay. That kind of gravitas usually unburdens a reporter from giving a rip about blowback from internet scolds, especially ones on the left who waste their days tweeting at reporters to “Do Better.” And yet, here was the venerable Barabak in his column, inoculating himself against any suggestion that he was evaluating Harris differently because she’s a woman and a person of color. Harris has shed much of her star power since becoming Joe Biden’s vice president, he wrote, because “it remains a fact that the No. 2 job in the White House is inherently a diminishing one.” And then: “It’s neither racist nor misogynistic to point that out when the jobholder happens to be Harris.”

That much should be obvious to any high school government student. But Barabak, like many other reporters covering Harris, felt compelled to shoehorn this caveat into his copy, a prebuttal to the inevitable accusations of sexism and racism that follow even the gentlest criticisms of the history-making vice president. The press had conditioned itself to this phenomenon during Harris’s lackluster presidential bid, when criticisms of her shaky political instincts, obvious lack of message, and questionable staff management were met with howls of racism and sexism by Harris loyalists and her reactionary defenders in the so-called #KHive. Harris dropped out of the Democratic primary before Iowa, proving her critics, including plenty of people who currently work in and around the Biden-Harris administration, correct. 

Doubts about Harris’ political abilities didn’t suddenly evaporate once Biden added her to the national ticket. But Democrats put whatever concerns they had about Harris on the back-burner. The urgent task of removing Donald Trump from office was all that mattered at the time, and Harris would theoretically help shore up support among women and black voters, cornerstone demos in the Democratic coalition. Many people have told me that Biden and Harris have always had a warm relationship, thanks in part to the V.P.’s friendship with the late Beau Biden, who was attorney general of Delaware when she was doing the same job in California. Biden, back in 2014 when he was vice president, once left a congratulatory voicemail for Harris after she got engaged to attorney Doug Emhoff. Maybe their friendship had frayed by the time Harris was lashing Biden on a debate stage for palling around with segregationists in the Senate, an attack that reportedly infuriated Jill Biden, who said Harris could “go fuck herself” in a call with donors. But presidential tickets are still marriages of convenience, and questions about Harris’ political aptitude, and whether she would be ready to step into the presidency if something befell the 78-year old Biden, well … those would have to wait until after the election.