If Kamala Harris fails in her bid to become vice-president of the United States, maybe she could run for leader of Canada’s Conservative Party.
While the Trump campaign lost no time declaring her an ally of “the radical left” following her selection as running mate by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, by Canadian standards, that would be a stretch.
Tugged by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic Party may have moved to the left, but with such radical policies as more accessible health care and a slight amount of wealth distribution from the very rich to the poorest, middle-of-the-road party members like Harris could easily fit into the political spectrum of moderate conservatives in Canada or Europe.
“She’s very big into raising taxes,” U.S. President Donald Trump said shortly after Biden announced Harris would be his running mate, beginning the process of framing the California senator as an enemy of business and the better-off.
Headlines proclaiming her Blackness, her Asian-ness, her Canadian-ness, her female gender and status as a child of immigrants might seem to confirm Trump’s portrayal of some sort of proletarian upstart, but the facts tell a different story.
Not a story of coming up from underclass
The hurdles for someone who is both a woman and non-white fighting her way to the top of the heap should not be minimized. A glance at Twitter will leave you creeped out by sexual comments directed at Harris that male politicians never have to face. But Harris’s economic perspective is by no means one of looking up from an underclass.
Opponents from the U.S. right may see her as being fanaticized by the five years she spent in school in Montreal, inculcated by what — Westmount radicalism? Westmount, for those not familiar with it, is a traditional enclave of the Quebec Anglo elite where socialism — on rare occasions when it raises its head — is usually taken with Champagne. Harris graduated from Westmount High School in 1981.
While indeed a child of immigrants, both of Harris’s parents were scholars. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who was born in India, was a cancer researcher and worked as a faculty member at Montreal’s McGill University for 16 years. Her father, Donald Harris, born in Jamaica, is a retired economics professor who taught at Stanford University in California, with a long list of honours. He had also been an economics fellow at Cambridge University in England.
Harris studied political science and economics at Howard University in Washington, D.C., heading up the economics club and the debating team at university before becoming a lawyer and prosecutor in California.
For the Trump team trying to expand on the president’s favourite anti-woman epithet “nasty” and his tired-sounding “phony” that he has rolled out so far, its challenge will be whether to castigate the potential VP to his more extreme supporters as a member of the establishment or as an usurping outsider. Watch for creative attempts to combine the two.
VP doesn’t need an economic policy
As many have noted, Harris and her economic and political perspectives are getting considerably more attention than many previous vice-presidential candidates, who were arguably less qualified. No doubt it is partly due to the fact that Biden, at 77 years old, occasionally seems vulnerable to teetering off his perch.
But unless or until that happens, Harris will not be announcing policy of her own. Despite that, she got a vote of confidence from Wall Street on Tuesday after Biden announced she would be his running mate.
Under the U.S. system, the VP’s job is to offer quiet support for the administration, only stepping forward if the president is incapacitated. The position, offering profile without culpability for presidential mistakes, is also a well-known stepping stone for those hoping to run for the top job.
It means that for now, and unlike when she was running to be the Democrats’ presidential nominee in her own right, Harris won’t have to develop an economic policy — one that might offend people on the left or right of her own party. In the event the other job comes her way, her jumping-off point will be Biden’s economic policy, which she will fine-tune as seems appropriate at that time.
For all the talk of her being anti-business, if Harris could bring California levels of entrepreneurial success and well-being to the rest of the country, a certain amount of Californian-style environmentalism or Canadian-style socialism might be overlooked.
For Canadians, most of whom have grown tired of Trump’s disrespect for Canada, his wild accusations of unfair trade, his off-the-cuff comments that so often seem disconnected from the real world, Harris’s race and gender will likely be of the least concern.
Whether through her influence as vice-president if she wins in November or her potential, eventual role as president and commander-in-chief, for many of us, it will be a relief to have someone near the seat of power who not only seems to actually understand how economics works but also knows firsthand what Canada is and what it is not.
Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis