US Presidential election: Reflections on Kamala Harris
By Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi
It took me a long time to get over the electoral loss of Hillary Clinton in 2016. When there are candidates or electoral races I am interested in, I can be an election junkie. In November 2008, I was so invested in Barack Obama’s election that I hosted an election night vigil with some friends at my house in Accra where I was still based at the time. When the election was declared for Barak, our screams could be heard in the whole neighbourhood. For Barack Obama’s reelection, I was invited by the US Embassy in Nigeria, to be part of an election night vigil on November 5th 2012 they organized in Lagos. It was a long night of speeches, (I was asked to talk about the role of women in politics and elections) and election monitoring, interspersed with entertainment.
I wrote an essay called, ‘Thank You Hillary’ shortly after the November 2016 election and it is in my book Loud Whispers. I reflected on her loss as follows, ‘In my own opinion, Hillary Clinton lost the election due to several factors – the resurgence of white nationalists, the disaffection of blue collar voters, sexism, the backlash against the Washington political elite, the millennials who underperformed, the reduced African-American vote, the FBI back and forth over her emails, the endless WikiLeaks, and complacency on the part of Democrats/the Clinton Campaign, who felt that they had some States firmly locked up and so did not need to campaign there. Perhaps one of the most painful factors that led to Hillary’s loss, was that 53% of white women who voted, cast their lot with Donald Trump. So after all the years of advocating for women to lead, of fighting for the empowerment of women, when they had the opportunity, white women in the US decided to use the power of their numbers to send a man with a controversial record with women to the White House. That hurts’. In subsequent years, information emerged about possible sabotage of the elections by the Russians. With or without their interference, the factors above were more than enough to cost Hillary the election. In the months that followed Hillary’s loss, the Democratic Party almost imploded. Then sometime in early 2017, I read an article about one woman who might be able to pull off a Democratic nomination and unify the party in 2020. It was Senator Kamala Harris. I was very excited when she joined the Presidential race in 2019, but she pulled out due to a lack of funding and traction. I thought to myself, her time will come.
Fast forward. On August 11th 2020, Senator Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee announced his choice of a running mate. As of February 2020, Senator Bernie Saunders, representing the left of the Democratic Party with a message of revolution that resonates with the younger members and more leftist Democrats, who were mostly opposed to Hillary in 2016 and did not show up for her the way they would have had the nominee been Bernie, was coasting towards clinching the Democratic nomination. Other Democratic contenders such as Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard and the billionaire maverick Michael Bloomberg were not serious threats to Bernie Saunders. By this time Joe Biden was limping and it seemed as if his campaign was in its dying throes.
Then on Saturday February 28th, the South Carolina Democratic primaries took place. Joe Biden won with a landslide and his campaign was resurrected from the dead. By ‘Super Tuesday’ on March 4th, Joe Biden had secured a significant lead and was unstoppable after that. Joe Biden won South Carolina with the votes of African-Americans, the most reliable voting bloc of the Democratic Party. Joe Biden knew that the forces at play within his own party, with a record number of female Presidential candidates, as well as tensions around the country on the topic of inclusion and exclusion in America of today, meant that he no longer had the luxury of business as usual. A ticket of two white men was not going to be an attractive draw for the increasingly diverse Democratic base. He therefore pledged, straight up, that he would take on a female running mate. Initially, it was assumed that someone like Elizabeth Warren, who appealed to a large segment of the Democratic left, and would be an acceptable consolation for the Bernie followers, would neatly fit this role to form a solid ticket against President Trump in November. Then George Lloyd was killed by policemen on May 25th, sparking outrage and massive riots within and outside the US. The Black Lives Matter movement was re-energized, and this time it got sympathy from mainstream audiences. Images of black mothers, sisters and Aunts mourning their dead sons over and over, from one senseless killing to the other kept playing on national television. The issue of Race was now front and center. Joe Biden came under pressure to pick an African-American woman as a running mate. Just as it is here in Nigeria, women are the backbone of the Democratic Party, and African-American women have more than paid their dues.
On August 11th 2020, Joe Biden announced Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Senator Harris comes with outstanding credentials and experience. The fact that she put herself out there to run for the Presidential nomination of her party was a plus in her favour, it means she is ready for the job. She also has a reputation for fearlessness, and is not intimidated by white male authority figures. She embarrassed Joe Biden at one of their debates by showing him the implications of one of his policies, she made Justice Brett Kavanaugh look like a school boy at his Senate hearing for clearance as a Supreme Court Judge and she grilled Attorney-General William Barr at a Senate Judiciary hearing into the Mueller Report till he squirmed figuratively. Kamala Harris ticks an impressive number of boxes, something that is absolutely necessary in today’s complex America. She is African-American and South-Asian American at the same time, born to a Jamaican father and an Indian mother. She grew up knowing what it meant to have ‘other’ identities in the US. She is also married to a white man, which takes care of a major constituency. She is a good orator, has great presence and is quite attractive with a megawatt smile, all important to the many critical voting blocs she will have to appeal to.
Already, the vultures have started to gather to pick at her. From within her own party, there are rumblings from those who believe she is too centrist to stand for much of anything and would therefore not appeal to the leftist hardliners. There are also questions about ‘how truly black she is’. On the other side, characterizations of her as a ‘Nasty’ and ‘Mad’ woman, led by President Trump himself, are being put out there. All this is no surprise, it is politics. Yesterday, I listened to Anderson Cooper interviewing Valerie Jarret on CNN. Valerie was one of Barrack Obama’s ‘Political Godmothers’, (yes, they have those in the US!), she also served as his Special Adviser throughout his two terms in office. Valerie said something to the effect that black women in the United States have been waiting for this moment. They know the knives will be out for Kamala Harris, and the political bullies will stop at nothing to bring her down. Valerie then proceeded to put everyone on notice. Black women leaders who have Kamala’s back will push back. For every take down of Kamala five will respond. It is hoped that the solidarity of white women can be counted on this time, it was taken for granted last time with disastrous results. The November election is for the Democrats to lose. They need to close ranks and stop the squabbling and whining. A lot is riding on the candidacy of Biden/Harris. Aside from hoping for a victory in November 2020, should Biden decide not to contest again in 2024, Kamala Harris has a direct shot at the White House with the strongest credentials possible. Can you imagine? A woman in the White House at last? And a black woman for that matter? Go Kamala, Go!!!!
*Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She is the First Lady of Ekiti State, and she can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com*