History was made by Joe Biden last month when he selected Californian senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate – the first-ever female person of colour to be selected for the ticket. In many respects, this serves as a landmark moment for US politics, potentially allowing Harris – who is of mixed Jamaican and Indian descent – to help usher in a much-needed movement of increased diversity and representation within the political sphere.
There is no denying that representation is important, both within the Democratic Party itself and in relation to the voting public as a whole. Harris’ selection shows that the Democratic Party believes she can play a powerful role in the future of the party and provides her with a platform to help disprove the misconception that it is only white men who are palatable to the average American voter.
Whilst all of this holds true, it does not necessarily mean that the Democrats’ attitude towards progressivism is anything more than merely symbolic. In the current age of identity politics and the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it could be said that the Democratic Party establishment are simply jumping on social trends to try to increase the appeal of Joe Biden as a presidential candidate. This seems especially true given his poor track record on criminal justice reform, historic “tough on crime” stance, and support of policies that helped worsen deep structural inequalities within the US justice system.
Harris’ past career is similarly problematic. Despite currently advertising herself as a criminal justice reformer, certain choices she made when she acted as district attorney of San Francisco and California’s attorney show Harris has often done the opposite. She frequently failed to act upon cases of black individuals killed at the hands of the police, dismissing cases of appeal from innocent civilians wrongfully convicted, and actively working to decrease the release of prisoners across California, despite levels of overcrowding in prisons being so severe that the US Supreme Court declared them as a form of “cruel and unusual punishment”. Harris’ selection is being presented by the Democrats as a bold move that will help reform US politics, but her track record suggests this will be anything but the case.
The prospect of Harris being Vice President, although groundbreaking in some ways, is nowhere near the step in the right direction that it appears to be. Biden’s presidential run seems hauntingly similar to Hillary Clinton’s lukewarm attempt in 2016, and Harris’ selection as running mate looks too much like a surface gesture aimed to increase support for a candidate for whom enthusiasm is lacking amongst the electorate.
In truth, painting Harris’ selection as a win for women and POCs is a distraction from the reality of the situation – a perpetuation of the neoliberal policies favoured by the Democrats that will inevitably leave marginalised communities much worse off. The choice of Harris as a potential Vice President is a hollow attempt by the Democratic Party to come across as radical and progressive, despite blatantly being neither.
By Ishmael Silvestro
Picture Source: Wikimedia Commons