on kamala harris

An engaging memoir from the junior U.S. Senator for California, Kamala Harris’s The Truths We Hold sketches the author’s early life, political career, and 2020 campaign platform.

Earlier this morning on Twitter the senator announced her campaign for the presidency in 2020 and launched her website, available in English and Spanish. Harris will deliver a formal speech announcing her campaign next Sunday in her hometown of Oakland, California.

Her campaign’s slogan will be “Kamala Harris: For the People,” its theme centering on restoring and expanding civil rights for marginalized groups. The color scheme of the campaign, red and yellow, recalls that of Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the presidency in 1972, the first time a Black and female major-party candidate sought the office.

Before she became a senator in 2016, Harris previously served as the District Attorney for San Francisco and the Attorney General for California, the first African American and first woman to hold the office.

The campaign will refuse donations from corporate PACs, and donations can be made via ActBlue.

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Harris soft launched her campaign with a national book tour promoting her recent memoir, The Truths We HoldIn addition to overviewing the politician’s personal life, the memoir details her former career as a “progressive prosecutor” who was “smart on crime,” and it highlights her recent accomplishments as a senator, from cosponsoring economic justice legislation to holding members of the Trump administration accountable.

Over the course of ten short chapters Harris builds the case for why she’s the most qualified for the presidency out of the few dozen likely candidates for the Democratic nomination. The daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, Harris positions herself as a progressive liberal capable of building an expansive coalition of voters and achieving wide-ranging reforms once in office. She points out the many ways in which civil rights have deteriorated since the collapse of the social movements of the sixties and seventies, and argues that the time has come transformative change.

In spite of her emphasis on social justice, Harris recognizes the need for a platform with broad appeal and tempers some of her more radical proposals. She stresses her support for tuition-free college, a higher minimum wage, and Medicare for All, but she stops short of endorsing the democratic socialism advocated by the most progressive members of her party, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The senator’s especially cautious when it comes to the issue of law enforcement. In her second chapter the author offers an extended defense of why she became a prosecutor. Across the entire book she makes it a point to argue at length that an either/or mentality regarding crime is outmoded. We can seek reforms in a criminal justice system that results in the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, she claims, while also aggressively seeking to hold accountable perpetrators of fraud, violence, and abuse.

Harris clearly recognizes her career as a prosecutor to be one of her key strengths and weaknesses. Her former career is likely to appeal to white moderates fearful of crime, while some liberals already have started to attack her for it. In the primary the compromises she was forced to make as a prosecutor could hurt her standing among a field of progressive candidates. In the national election the senator’s strong track record of being ‘smart on crime’ would help her as she fights against a corrupt incumbent who’s staked his political career on ostensibly being a ‘law and order’ candidate.

Easy to read and full of campaign talking points, The Truths We Hold offers an accessible introduction to Harris as a candidate and as a person. As with most political memoirs, this one comes across as fairly guarded, but there are flashes of rage that make it worth reading. The author’s description of her lifelong passion for social justice is memorable, and she offers a compelling case for why she’s the right candidate for 2020.

15 thoughts on “on kamala harris

  1. Very interesting. I rather suspected she was going to run, but you’re right – her history as a prosecutor is going to work both for and against her. If she wins the nomination, I suspect it’ll be more of an advantage: white moderates are the votes that Democrats need, and it’ll be easier to convince more of them to vote for a Dem if she’s got that strong-on-crime image. (I suspect. Though if we’ve learned anything, it’s that political prediction in the 21st century is a fool’s game.)

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    1. I think your suspicion’s on point: a lot of what’s in her platform will energize the base across the country, but her strong-on-crime image could win over a lot of voters in the midwestern states Clinton lost. It’s also hard to imagine Trump’s rhetoric of law/order will be as convincing to those swing voters the second time around, given how transparently dysfunctional his administration is.

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      1. I’m to the point where I can’t believe anyone would criticize any candidate running against Trump if they’re against Donald Trump. Things have gotten so convoluted that I’ve thrown good sense and rhetoric out the door. I do remember that prior to the election for president that there were groups pointing out reasons they wouldn’t vote for Hillary. One woman on NPR said that Hillary assumes she has the black vote, but Hillary herself doesn’t go specifically to black neighborhoods and talk to people. While I see what the woman was saying, I also find it confusing that this woman was encouraging people in her community to not vote for Hillary because she didn’t make a personal visit. Campaigns have volunteers and staffers in the thousands to do this type of job. OMG I’M RANTING.

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      2. I can’t either really, and I hope that this time around there’s not a sizable chunk of voters who cast their ballots for a third party as a way to express protest against whoever the Dems’ nominee is. I’m also hoping Bernie stays out of the race altogether, since people on both sides of the party still feel raw over what happened in the ‘16 primary.

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  2. Wonderful review, Michael! This memoir looks quite fascinating! I would love to read about her career as an attorney and her thoughts on how to prevent crime. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    1. Thanks, Vishy! I listened to it on audio, and I really enjoyed hearing Harris’s story in her own voice. Hope you enjoy it if you ever have the chance to read it!

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  3. Great review! I was curious about this one. I’m wary of the memoirs released in time to announce political candidacy, because as you put it so well, “guarded” is often how they feel, or overly generalized. It sounds like she uses the opportunity to better explain herself and her ideas very well, though.

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    1. Thanks! There were parts of this that felt overly generalized, especially about her adult life, but I mostly enjoyed it. She seemed open to adapting her ideas/platform to new research and public opinion, which made it a bit different from other candidate memoirs I’ve looked into.

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  4. Nice review of this book! I went to her campaign launch in Oakland and it was a fantastic event — so much energy and hope and an insane amount of people showed up. It’ll be revealing to see how things shape up once people are going head to head with each other. I’m really hoping to see some good policy discussions and challenging each other on legitimate issues (as opposed to cheap shots and slinging mud). Glad I came across this post!

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    1. Ahh, that’s so cool that you attended her campaign launch in Oakland!! I watched it on television, and the energy was palpable. I don’t think any of the other candidates’ launches were as inspirational (or quotable). Also hoping policy is debated extensively, since Dems need to have a game plan for when they retake power in 2020. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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