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Kamala comes to Oakland


Kamala Harris was in my home town yesterday for the formal kickoff of her presidential campaign. She is of course the junior Senator from California; before that she was District Attorney of San Francisco and then California’s Attorney-General. But what a lot of people didn’t know is that she’s an Oakland girl, which is why she paid us the honor of launching her campaign here.

Kamala’s politics are more or less solidly Blue. She’s getting a little early flack from the Right for her record as D.A. when she refused to ask for the death penalty for a cop killer. On the other hand, some in the media are portraying her as insufficiently Left to satisfy the hardest core of the Democratic base. So she’s getting it from both ends. But Kamala is inoculated from both extremes. She’s easily sufficiently liberal enough to appeal to the vast majority of Democrats, even Bernie supporters, and if she gains traction over the next year, even those currently dubious will rally to her side. And Black women, in particular, will turn out for her in huge numbers. At the same time, any Republican attacks can be refuted precisely because of her strong law enforcement background. So I’m not worried at all about Kamala’s record. If both the extreme Right and extreme Left don’t like her, they cancel each other out, leaving the middle way wide open.

Kamala’s Sunday rally, by the way, was at Frank Ogawa Plaza, a large, open space in front of City Hall, in the heart of downtown. That’s where Pan Theater is, the home of my improv troupe, where we perform every Friday night. The Plaza also was where Occupy Oakland began. I remember, in the Fall of 2011, all the tents, the people who camped there or visited, and the air of fevered historicity. Occupy Oakland came to an abrupt end when the group’s leaders (and it did have leaders despite claiming it didn’t) refused to repudiate Occupy’s own extremists: the young hoodlums who donned black masks and vandalized downtown, every chance they could.

The Right will try to link Kamala Harris with those Occupy types, but they won’t succeed. That’s just not who she is. In fact, the dead-enders of Occupy Oakland, which still exists (barely), have denounced her and called for active resistance to her campaign, on the allegation that she’s insufficiently progressive. This is nonsense, of course. These fringe groups like Occupy have very little power in Democratic politics; everybody saw how they helped destroy Hillary’s chances in 2016. We’re looking now for someone who can win, not for some idealized version of ideological purity. Besides, all the Democratic candidates are more or less in agreement on all the issues. We just have to find the best person.

It could be Kamala Harris. She looks like Oakland, which I believe is the most racially and ethnically diverse city in America. She has an Indian (subcontinent) mother and a Black father. She’s a woman. Check those boxes off! Her reputation in the Bay Area has always been as a very strong, articulate woman, but she doesn’t have that hard edge, the way Elizabeth Warren does and (to some extent) Hillary Clinton. She also blazes—yes, that’s the word I picked—with intelligence. She’s ambitious, but so is anyone who runs for President.

There was a story a couple years ago that Kamala, when she was Attorney-General, struck a deal with Gavin Newsom, when he was Lieutenant-Governor, that she would run for Senator when Barbara Boxer quit, in 2016, and Gavin would wait until 2018 to run for Governor, the post he won last November. The story was widely believed, and might even be true. I asked Gov. Newsom, before the recent election, if it was, and he said No, it wasn’t. At any rate, Gavin Newsom is much more comfortable in an executive position than in a legislative one, and his own future on the national stage could be bright and shining, depending on how things work out.

California has been very fortunate to have leaders such as Harris and Newsom, not to mention Speaker Pelosi and our senior Senator, Dianne Feinstein. All hail from, or were closely associated with, San Francisco, a city Republicans love to bash, with their predictable venom of homophobia, racism and xenophobia. If you want to know what San Francisco values are, and Oakland values, too, just look at the four individuals I just named. They are great Americans. Their values are the values of most liberal Americans, “liberal” in the sense of supporting civil rights, democracy, secularism, equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of and from religion, and free markets. Who could be against any of that?

I’ll be watching the Democratic race carefully. Over the last two years the Democratic Party has managed to avoid the internecine fights that occurred in 2007-2008 and again in 2015-2016, in the runups to the Presidential elections. It’s Republicans who are at war with each other this time, not Democrats. I hope it stays that way. I’m not ready to come out for any particular candidate yet. But Kamala Harris is looking good.

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