US Senator Kamala Harris won’t go from representing California on Capitol Hill to being the president of all Americans in the White House (August 2020 update: but as VP, she might). At least not for the next presidential term, since the 55 year-old accomplished prosecutor decided to quit the race. She made her decision after a Thanksgiving family brainstorming, considering insufficient funds for her campaign and low performances in the polls. All along, she appeared to be the moderate candidate not willing to promise the impossible, on a less “radical” agenda than some of her rivals like Sanders or Warren. But in fact, winning the election might actually have been mission impossible. Her win would have been radical de facto.
Indeed, the senator born in Oakland was considered as the one who didn’t want to shake things too much compared to older (whiter) hopeful democrats. She wasn’t the millenials favorite, as she was not on a super leftist line regarding the economy. But her story says otherwise. And it might be just the reason why she seemed more moderate.
First, obviously she’s a woman and that is still the greatest barrier to break, after 45 presidents who were men. All the brave words in the world won’t change a thing, it will take someone biologically female to actually do it. Nothing more, nothing less. Sanders or Biden might theoretically want some change on that question, but they actually can’t interrupt the injustice that the monopoly of political power is. This monopoly ending might not require a feminist or a leftist, but it requires a woman.
Moreover, compared to her fellow former rivals, the California senator is not the standard wasp American traditionally expected to become president of the United States. Barack Obama himself, even if he broke the rule to some extent, had a white mother born in Kansas in a very Christian family.
Harris would have represented the next level of breaking the rules, especially in a time when immigration creates much tension : she isn’t the daughter of one but two immigrants, one Jamaican father, who’s black and baptist, and one Tamil mother from India, who’s brown and hindu. Not the lower-class kind of immigrants, though. Her father was a professor at Stanford and her mother an endocrinology scientist. They both immigrated in California at the beginning of the 1960’s to study at Berkeley. They both were from privileged backgrounds, but it didn’t prevent Kamala, born in 1964, and her sister, to be discriminated against as black kids in California, in a time when official racial segregation was just about to end.
Even if she “rarely talks publicly about her personal experience of race in America”, as the Los Angeles Times underlines, she told the newspaper her neighbors’ kids in Palo Alto, where her dad lived, were forbidden to play with her and her sister because they were black.
She experienced the divorce of her parents at the age of seven, which was not common at this time (and which is never painless for a child). That, also, puts her out of the box. And speaking of children, she didn’t have kids herself, another uncommon thing in a society carried by family values (the year she turned 50, she married a lawyer who had two children from his previous marriage).
For all these reasons making her out of the ordinary, she might have tried more than others to fit in the box, in order to succeed and have the career she had in law enforcement, leading her to become California Attorney General.
Yet, in California, she is a typical face. The Golden State has more immigrants than any other state, but to please the whole country, it might still be a little too much.
(updated on August 13, 2020)