Rewriting History on Harris vs. Biden

Published August 13, 2020

National Review Online

Democratic Party operatives and journalists — but I repeat myself — are already busying themselves about the important task of rewriting the conflicts between presumptive nominee Joe Biden and his new running mate Kamala Harris.

In the first debate of the Democratic primary, Harris came out swinging, perhaps rightly viewing Biden as the biggest fish in the pond. Wielding the “one-armed paper-hanger” that my colleague Kevin Williamson is fond of pointing out, Harris began her attack, “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.”

Here’s much of what she went on to say:

Growing up, my sister and I had to deal with the neighbor who told us her parents couldn’t play with us because we were black. And I will say also that — that, in this campaign, we have also heard — and I’m going to now direct this at Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground.

But I also believe, and it’s personal — and I was actually very — it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing.

And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bussed to school every day. And that little girl was me.

Harris and Biden then had a rather one-sided exchange in which she vigorously berated him for opposing forced integration of schools via busing and implied that his opposition to the practice somehow signaled that he was insufficiently committed to the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts.

Yesterday evening, mere hours after Biden’s VP pick became public, a Washington Post correspondent had already produced an article insisting that “No, Kamala Harris didn’t call Joe Biden a racist.” The analysis was positioned as a response to a Trump campaign adviser’s claim that Harris had called Biden a racist, which, of course, she hadn’t. But her specific word choice is hardly the point.

Harris had scored arguably her best moment in any primary debate and her only major boost in the polls by claiming that Biden favored segregation and by insinuating that he has failed to fight for racial equality. She didn’t have to call him a racist for that spat to be worthy of scrutiny.

To the extent the press bothers to mention this incident at all from now until Election Day, you can be sure they will frame it as Harris offering Biden a necessary “challenge” or “holding him accountable,” and they will insist that his choice to run with her anyway demonstrates his humility and new racial consciousness.

In fact, CNN’s Chris Cillizza is already on it:

[The Trump campaign] would note — as it did shortly after the pick was announced! — that she had slammed Biden’s stance on segregated busing in a June 2019 presidential debate. . . . But it’s hard to see that attack doing much damage, given that Biden made history by picking Harris.

Perhaps even more troubling for Biden-Harris backers is the fact that the California senator has said she believes the women who accused Biden of unwanted touching. Last April, after several women came forward and said Biden had inappropriately touched or sniffed them, Harris had this to say: “I believe them and I respect them being able to tell their story and having the courage to do it.”

Harris went on to add that Biden, who had yet to announce his presidential campaign, should reflect on whether to run in light of those accusations. “He’s going to have to make that decision for himself,” she said. “I wouldn’t tell him what to do.”

In 2018, meanwhile, Harris said she believed Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, even though Ford never provided any corroboration of her account or established that she and Kavanaugh had ever met.

But this spring, when former Biden staffer Tara Reade accused him of having sexually assaulted her, Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle that she could “only speak to the Joe Biden I know,” before describing him as “a lifelong fighter, in terms of stopping violence against women.”

“The Joe Biden I know,” Harris said, “is somebody who really has fought for women and empowerment of women and for women’s equality and rights.”

Harris said that Reade “has a right to tell her story” and added, “I believe Joe Biden believes that, too” before arguing that her accusation had raised “a bigger structural issue, frankly, which is that women must be able to speak without fear of retaliation.”

It is difficult to imagine that the media will bother to ask Harris whether she still believes Biden’s accusers or whether she has anything more useful to offer with regard to Reade’s accusation. But her willingness to join Biden’s ticket after insinuating that he was a segregationist guilty of inappropriately touching women reveals that she cares far less about principle than about gaining power.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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