Kamala Harris: The next Obama?
|Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP photo|
Mark Pulliam on Kamala Harris in City Journal:
...What type of senator would Harris be if elected? She’s not a scrapper or a yeller like Boxer. Nor does she display the independence—let alone the occasional fit of moderation—of California’s senior senator, 82-year-old Dianne Feinstein. Impeccably dressed, usually adorned with a string of pearls, Harris cuts an attractive figure. President Obama sheepishly apologized in 2013 for calling her “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.”
But the Senate is full of inflated egos and preening peacocks, so Harris’s fashion sense and glamorous mien won’t suffice to distinguish her in the upper chamber.
Lacking prior legislative experience, and with a résumé short on federal issues, Harris will have to work hard and display smarts to stand out. So far she has shown little appetite or aptitude for imaginative initiatives; she prefers to take predictable (and not particularly cerebral) positions on the issues, reflexively advocating the interests of immigrants, unions, and trial lawyers. As The Economist noted, “She offers few bold or risky ideas.” The Washington press corps will be harder to impress and less forgiving of mistakes than the California reporters she has charmed up to now. While surpassing Boxer in effectiveness isn’t an especially high bar, Harris might be hard-pressed to do it.
Yet Harris is nothing if not ambitious and opportunistic. Early in her career, the 29-year-old Harris dated California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who was 60 at the time—and married. (Brown went on to become San Francisco’s first black mayor after term limits ended his storied run as “Speaker for Life” in Sacramento.) As speaker, Brown appointed Harris—then a young deputy district attorney in Alameda County—to high-profile, lucrative positions on the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the California Medical Assistance Commission. These cushy sinecures paid her more than $400,000 between 1994 and 1999.
After Brown and Harris split, Brown continued to support her politically, using his mayoral perch to help her become San Francisco’s first black (and first female) district attorney...
The Washington Post has called Harris “the next Barack Obama,” and the two have many things in common: they’re about the same age, were both trained as lawyers and activists, and exude a certain movie-star charisma, at least to liberal supporters... Harris lacks Obama’s rhetorical skills, however. Her prime-time speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, elicited lukewarm reviews, and she seldom strays from prepared remarks.
Nor can Harris boast Obama’s Ivy League credentials. She earned her undergraduate degree from the historically black Howard University and graduated from the University of California’s second-tier Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
Like Obama, though, Harris is a committed progressive. She’s a reliable supporter of liberal policies and—as Obama did when he sought the presidency—generally avoids high-profile controversies, maintaining a “centrist” public image (by California standards). For example, she has declined to take a position on Governor Jerry Brown’s much-derided Los Angeles–to–San Francisco high-speed rail project, which will cost at least $68 billion, according to recent estimates...
An earlier post on Harris.