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Wait — Why Aren’t We Rooting for Kamala Harris?

If you are like me — an avid Kamala Harris supporter, wearing T-shirts, buying bumper stickers, constantly posting her praise online — you probably shrieked with joy when you read the headline that she was officially announced as Joe Biden’s running mate. Sure, many of us knew it was coming, but it was still thrilling for it to become official.

Even if you aren’t like me— not particularly enthusiastic about politics or only looking forward to kicking the orange out of the Oval Office so you can finally start seeing regular posts on your Instagram feed again — you may have noticed that Kamala Harris is receiving a lot more backlash than approval.

After hearing the news about her candidacy, my good mood was quickly shot down. I went to post my excitement on Instagram, but saw that many people already beat me to it. Their posts did not boast my same enthusiasm and pride. The phrase “Settle for Kamala” was everywhere, replacing the new common slogan “Settle for Biden.” Not only that, but people were outwardly condemning her for past actions as a prosecutor and Attorney General of California.

If you see similar things online, you’re probably wondering why people greeted her with such scorn. Considering our presidential and vice presidential options, shouldn’t we be happier than before? After all, can anyone remember the last time a Black, Southeast Asian woman was chosen to run for the second highest political office in the nation? Of course not; it has never happened before. So why are we talking exclusively about said woman’s faults, flaws, and past mistakes instead? One could say there are multiple answers to this question, but I argue there is just one: sexism.

This is not something I say flippantly.

Many friends of mine have expressed their disappointment in Kamala Harris’ prosecutorial past, and I share that sentiment. To let it discourage you from voting for or being excited about her, though, is misguided and naive. You will be hard pressed to find a politician who has only done things you approve; such a standard is unrealistic, and to force it solely on the female candidate is sexist, plain and simple.

Do not misunderstand me; Kamala Harris is not perfect. Given the fact that she is a Democrat running with a serious prosecutorial background, she was controversial from the start. In the early 2000s, Harris was known to be one of the most progressive top prosecutors in the country, opposing the death penalty and advocating for rehabilitation over than punishment. Her platform shifted, however, in the following years when she was elected Attorney General. She harbored on technicalities in order to keep the wrongfully convicted behind bars rather than awarding them new and more fair trials. It was only recently that she overturned her infamous staunch opposition of marijuana legalization. 

When I first read about this information, I thought, “Oh my goodness, I don’t agree with these positions at all.” Then I read a little further and realized neither does Harris. These incidents and examples of past mistakes all happened five to 15 years ago and are just that: past mistakes. In fact, she has gone back on many of them since then, changing her opinions entirely.

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In the world of politics, this is not unheard of; our society is constantly evolving, so our opinions do too. One example of a politician with changing opinions is Bill Clinton. As president, he implemented the “three strikes” law in 1994 that contributed to America’s mass incarceration crisis. Later, he came to deeply regret it. In 2015, he apologized for it all — and continues to. Many Americans have accepted that apology. Forgiveness is a separate issue, but we at least understand that Clinton’s ideals have changed and he no longer supports many of his past decisions. Just as we let citizens change their opinions and reflect on past ones, we should allow politicians to as well. The reason some Americans refuse Kamala Harris this liberty is because she is a woman. This, of course, is inherently sexist. 

Continuing with the comparison to Bill Clinton, Harris has arguably done more to right her past wrongs. While Clinton only apologized, Harris vowed to “decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge prior marijuana convictions” and “use revenue from marijuana sales to help those with prior convictions.” If, after reading this information, your first instinct is to ask, “Well, how do we know we can trust her?” you need to pause. You are likely being sexist — whether or not you realize it. 

This fear of a “lack of authenticity” is the same, sexist argument used against Hillary Rodham Clinton. Citizens of any country should not be blindly loyal to their political leaders; it is always a possibility that a politician is being ingenuine. Some may have an entirely separate agenda from the one they claim during their campaign. For that reason, all politicians should be held accountable for their actions, yet this caution traditionally only comes along when a woman finally has the chance to come into power. The sexism lies in holding female politicians to a higher standard than their male counterparts. 

So yes, I know Kamala Harris is not perfect — just as I know former president Barack Obama was not perfect. In fact, I took issue with many of the decisions he did (and did not) make as president. However, I have never cared to point out those shortcomings because, overall, I am more than satisfied with his presidency. I am also aware of the fact that as the first Black president, pointing out his flaws aids no one other than those who have always stood against him. As the first woman of color to even potentially become vice president, Kamala Harris will already face an extraordinary amount of criticism; members of her own party do not need to add to it.

Yet we do feel more inclined to criticize her — because she is a woman. Not only that, she is a strong, powerful, and ambitious woman. This is what frightens America. We saw evidence of it during the 2016 election, and we are beginning to see it again now. Hillary Rodham Clinton would have won if she had been a man, but we knew that already. We can’t afford to make the same mistake this time around.

So the next time you so outwardly and aggressively criticize Kamala Harris, ask yourself: would I be putting this much energy into tearing down our best political candidate if she were a man? I can tell you the answer is a whopping no.

Noa Fay

Columbia Barnard '24

I am studying at Barnard College of Columbia University. Some of my academic interests include American politics, Israeli politics, Russian language, and Greek mythology. I am also a passionate opera singer and writer. In January 2020 I published my first novel, One Cruel House, and I hope to publish more.
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