You saw that on full display in the first major debate among the 2020 Democratic candidates, where given the chance she eviscerated Joe Biden for his record as a U.S. Senator in the 1980s and 1990s opposing busing to desegregate schools. Pointing to her own childhood - how's that for anecdote - Harris argued how busing gave her chances at an integrated school to become the lawyer and political figure she is today. To her, it was a matter of social justice (integration) and legal justice (fairness).
That exchanged busted Biden, and boosted Harris to the top tier where Biden, Sanders and Warren were already tapped. She's arguably the candidate most opposed to Joe (while the narrative pits Sanders and Warren as rivals for the more Progressive primary voters).
So now that Harris is running with the big dogs now, what should we expect from her as candidate for President?
Harris' biography starts from her birth in Oakland to immigrants, a father from Jamaica and a mother from India. Both parents were scholars and social activists, which likely influenced Harris' growing up. While raised Baptist, her mom also had the family attend the local Hindu temple to keep in touch with her Indian roots. From there, Harris dual-majored in Economics and Political Science at Howard University, then returned to the Bay area to get her Juris Doctorate with UC Hastings College of Law (if she wins the Presidency, she'll be the most recent President who didn't get any degree from Harvard or Yale or Ivy League. And no, trump does not count: I doubt trump earned a college degree at all...)
Harris first came to national attention as the District Attorney in San Francisco back in 2005, when the likes of Newsweek magazine ran articles on her work. From the October 24 2005 issue (article by Karen Breslau):
...Harris... the hard-driving daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, both academics and civil-rights activists, grew up in Berkeley. But anyone who mistakes her for a softhearted liberal should think again. As a prosecutor in Oakland, Harris never lost a felony case sent to the jury. In San Francisco's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, Harris has become a hero --to mothers of murder victims, with whom she meets regularly to review the prosecutions of their children's accused killers. During her first year in office, Harris has boosted the conviction rate for felonies from 62 percent to 79 percent.
At the same time, she has also embraced innovative prevention strategies. For youthful offenders leaving prison, Harris is creating a re-entry program to provide schooling and job training. She helped raise money to build a safe house for teen prostitutes. "We have to dispense with old conversation about being 'soft' on crime or being 'hard' on crime," says Harris. "We have to talk about being smart on crime."
Harris's efforts to improve relations with the police department got off to a rough start when an undercover police officer was shot and killed shortly after she took office in 2004. Harris, a Democrat opposed to the death penalty, announced that she would instead seek life in prison for the accused killer. The decision enraged police. Despite those tensions, Harris and Fong continued to meet regularly, in part to signal to their departments that the work of law enforcement had to go on. Newsom gives the two women credit for continuing to communicate, unlike their male predecessors, who went for years without speaking to each other...Despite the controversy, Harris seemed at least respected by local law enforcement, because her political career didn't take the hits an angry police union would dole out to anyone who crosses them.
From there, Harris moved up to California's Attorney General's office, where she made an immediate impact fighting over the post-Recession fallout (via Newsweek again in February 20 2012, byline Katrina Heron):
After multiple trips to Washington for heated closed-door sessions, Harris walked away last September from a deal highly coveted by President Obama and shepherded by a score of federal agencies, a proposed settlement between the 50 states' attorneys general and the five biggest banks involved in the home-mortgage crisis. "I have concluded that this is not the deal California homeowners have been waiting for," Harris wrote to the settlement's committee chairs, just nine months into her job, noting that more than half a million more homes in her state had fallen into the foreclosure process since discussions had begun in late 2010.
Harris's abrupt departure helped derail that agreement, and response to her move was swift. Some critics, including members of the financial community, spoke of a newcomer making an irresponsible gamble to enhance her own political stature. Those who approved saw a savvy bluff-caller doing her job for a state that leads the nation in homeowner woes, with 2.2 million borrowers currently underwater on their mortgages and seven of the 10 cities in America hardest hit by foreclosure. Still others believed Harris would never agree to a deal.
That last theory, at least, was put to rest on Thursday with the announcement that 49 states, including California, have agreed to a three-year, $26 billion settlement with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Ally Financial. A formidable negotiator, Harris had pushed up her state's take from somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion to $12 billion, with an estimated $6 billion more in value to owners coming from banks acknowledging the diminished value of homes. She also extracted special concessions on how the relief will be guaranteed and distributed. Along with other, equally intransigent AGs, Harris also prevailed against the banks' bid for across-the-board immunity, preserving for states the right to pursue their own investigations into how loans were made to borrowers and how they were then packaged and resold in financial markets.
Still, some critics branded the deal a sell-out (after all, bank shares rose), pointing out that it offers scant relief for those who have already lost their homes to foreclosure. Harris herself--for whom the settlement is arguably a huge political coup and a boost for any future gubernatorial run--did not crow. "We brought an $18 billion life preserver to homeowners who need relief right now," she told Newsweek in an interview after the deal was announced. "It's a good thing, but we have a lot more work to do. By no means are we done."
Harris... has never shied from a central role in the long-running negotiations. Sitting in her office under a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr., she was roused easily from professional calm to righteous fervor, revealing shades of the career prosecutor who first made her name battling the grittiest of crimes, including child sexual abuse. Her customary uniform of dark pantsuit, high heels, and pearls suggests a rather glamorous CEO, but the bursts of intensity are that of a courtroom dynamo, by turns compelling outrage and inviting empathy, disarmingly folksy and clearly comfortable under pressure.
That combination of charm and combativeness has marked her as a comer in Democratic circles, and she's adept in a wide range of social climes. In conversation, she brings up visits with elderly African-American women who became targets for fraudulent mortgage activity--"they are my grandmothers!"--and fondly remembers the black congregants at churches in Los Angeles who supported her campaign for attorney general. At the same time, the liberal white establishment of San Francisco has been her fundraising bedrock, and one of her best friends is the socialite Vanessa Getty, wife of a Getty Oil heir.
As a young assistant district attorney in the 1990s, Harris developed an expertise in domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and sex slavery cases. As district attorney in San Francisco starting in 2003, she reframed the legal lexicon around sex crimes, replacing the pejorative "teenage prostitute" with "exploited youth," and pushed for an amended state law that would ensure stricter penalties for johns. Common to these cases was "the pathology of the predator, the bottom-feeder," Harris said, adding that "be they a runaway teenager or a homeowner, an insidious part of the equation is the predator." While opponents labeled her as soft on crime, her record proved otherwise. Another focus of hers was on reducing recidivism.
Perhaps most noticeable is Harris's penchant for moral argument, which she traces to her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer researcher of some renown who died in 2009. The India-born Gopalan came to the U.S. as a 20-year-old aspiring scientist and went on to several distinguished professorships. She and her husband, Donald Harris, a Jamaican-American academic, had two daughters; after their divorce Gopalan parented Kamala and her younger sister, Maya (now a vice president at the Ford Foundation), alone. "She was 5-foot-1 and you would think she was 6-foot-2," Harris said. "She told us, 'Whatever you choose to do, do it. Fight systems in a way that causes them to be more fair, and don't be overwhelmed by what has always been. You can see the potential and make it happen.'"
During Harris' campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2016, the Economist magazine in October 29 2016 had this to say:
More than a decade later, Ms Harris still puts her faith in data, as she cites crises that Republicans and Democrats alike know need to be addressed, in fields as diverse as criminal justice, immigration, the costs of higher education or the drugs epidemic that is as cruel a scourge in conservative rural states as it is in inner cities. Over a stop for iced coffees on the campaign trail, she says transparency is the key to building trust among people, and then between communities and government. To that end in 2015 her department began releasing torrents of statistics about arrests and deaths in custody across California. Nor is keeping the trust of the police forgotten: Ms Harris's department publicizes data on law-enforcement officers killed or assaulted on duty...
Washington skeptics may dismiss Ms Harris as a typical Californian progressive. It is true that her campaign ads boast of suing big banks for fraud. She also has a distinctly paternalist streak. Greeting an eight year old in his classroom, the attorney-general solemnly coaches him: "We shake hands and look each other in the eyes." Asked by a little girl about favorite foods, Ms Harris replies: "I like French fries, but I love spinach."
But Ms Harris is a prosecutor to her core, who approaches voters as she would 12 jurors of different backgrounds: "You have to point to the facts." Contemplating a country where millions feel displaced by change, she yearns to see another approach to politics tried: "to give people an image of what the future looks like, and to paint that image in a way that they can see themselves in it." Fierce, charming and eloquent, Ms Harris may be a big part of the Democratic Party's future too...So with that as her biography for review, how do I view her as the candidate?
Kamala Harris - Senator, California
Positives: Driven, has a strong background as a legal prosecutor that makes her a tough debate opponent. Has enough campaign experience and enough career experience in law and administration to make her an effective President. Unwilling to back down from a fight. Behaves as though public office is a public trust. Is running on popular topics such as paying teachers better. Is genuinely charismatic and can work a crowd. If elected, would be the first Democrat from West of the Mississippi River since Johnson to win, and would confirm the importance of the most-populated state in the US. The Democratic candidate most likely to throat-punch trump first chance she gets.
Negatives: Does not have many legislative successes to claim (albeit working in a GOP-controlled Senate puts a clamp on that). Her track record as a prosecutor - even with the reforms she's championed - may hurt her among Progressives railing against police brutality. Does not guarantee flipping any key battleground states (California is so solidly Blue it may not elect another Republican to major office for the next 20 years). It's not her fault, but Harris is already the target of Birtherism conspiracy talk since her parents are both first-generation immigrants and the haters are arguing she's not a natural-born citizen (OAKLAND COUNTS, you goddamned racists). She's also a woman, and reviewing how badly the mainstream media tore into Hillary on gender issues alone suggests 2020 won't be any easier for women candidates. So we gotta go through ALL THAT crap again...
Chances: Rising. From the first debate where she pummeled front-runner Biden with his questionable stance on busing/school desegregation, Harris has more than doubled her polling numbers and is strongly in the top-tier. Continued strong performances on-stage - and any positive role she can play in Congress over the next year - could make her the winner in a tightly crowded top-tier that might send the results to a contested convention in 2020.
Character Chart: Straight out of the gate, we should agree that Harris follows the Active model of accepting the powers (and responsibilities of using power) that political office holds. It's more a question if she falls under Positive (using the office to enact major reforms, engaging crises with an open mind and eager for the challenge) or Negative (using the office to attain self-defining goals, reacting to crises unwillingly with narrow and unchanging beliefs) ways of wielding political power. Given what I've read and her career, I have to lean towards viewing her as an Active-Negative character (with caveats).
She displays an Uncompromising world-view, founded on what is clearly a firm belief in justice - her entire legal career is this - combined with the calls for social justice she inherited from her family. The Ambition common with A-Ns is tempered by the Active-Positive traits of thinking more in the "We Can" than "I Must" mindset, but her track record shows habits of unbending will. In most respects, she leans more towards Carter's character traits (maybe also Grover Cleveland) than other known Democratic A-Ns like LBJ. Unlike Hillary, whose A-N worldview made her unlikable, Harris has shown better skill at outreach and teamwork. She also hasn't displayed - yet - any of the troubling self-destructive signs that A-Ns have dealing with setbacks. Of the four major candidates for 2020, Harris is the toughest one to sort, but that Uncompromising descriptor best fits her than any other known trait. She's right on the fence with A-Ps though, much like Bill Clinton was bordering Active-Positive with Passive-Positive.
This doesn't make her a bad choice as President, though. We've had Active-Negatives as President who did not self-destruct in the ways Nixon or LBJ did. Under the right circumstances, an A-N figure in the White House would be able - willing in some cases - to clean out the corruption that most A-Ns see in politics. Unlike the type of Active-Negative trump is - one who accepts political corruption as a given and thus wallows in it for self-gain (the worst of Jackson, Johnson and Nixon) - Harris would be one who would genuinely opposes such corruption and fight against it (Cleveland again is the best role model here). This is where A-Ns have an advantage over Active-Positives who get too caught up in game-playing and Big Picture reforms that ignore the base problems that won't go away.
I've argued earlier that of the Democratic candidates, Harris is my top choice. I'm normally wary of A-Ns, but I do recognize that there are times - and this is one of those times - an Active-Negative geared towards reformative action is what's needed to fix a broken nation. The good news IMHO is that Harris shows signs of being personally incorruptable thus avoiding the kind of self-destructive scandals that plague lesser Active-Negatives.
Next up on Predicting Character: The one candidate I almost tagged as Passive-Positive... so now I get another chance to do it again.