Make Kamala Harris cool again

Progressives shouldn’t fear being tough on crime

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Ahmed Ahmed

“…We run around with these signs: ‘build more schools, less jails, build more schools, less jails’ –  and we walk around everywhere – ‘build more schools’ – we protest ‘build more schools less jails, put money into education not prisons.’ There’s a fundamental problem with that approach in my opinion and it’s this: I agree with that…but you have not addressed the reason I have three padlocks on my front door.”

Unless you spent an unhealthy amount of time watching the 2020 Democratic Primaries, you may be surprised to read that the above rant came not from a Fox News-addicted conservative activist, but from the darling of progressive politics writers – Kamala Harris. This critique of progressives who downplay the need for police officers and jails when dealing with crime was just one of several reasons leftists disliked her. Much of Harrris’ political history was this emphasis on being tough-on-crime.

She pointed to increasing violent crime in her successful effort to take down “America’s most progressive district attorney,” becoming San Francisco’s top prosecutor. The next decade of her political career involved an anti-truancy policy some felt was too harsh on parents, continuing prosecutions, and comments like the previously mentioned which drew anger from the left. 

Harris, aware that she was under fire from the left for her tough-on-crime record, steered clear of defending herself too strongly. Fearful that a party overwhelmingly in favor of the Black Lives Matter movement would vote against her, she avoided the usual politician-speak about locking up violent criminals.

But Harris misread the moment. She didn’t lose to a radical prison abolitionist; the primary’s victor was Joe Biden – the author of the 1994 crime bill that mass incarceration skeptics hate. 

Though the former prosecutor is now the second-in-command, her path to the presidency is muddled. Polls now show her as significantly more unpopular than Joe Biden, who himself is experiencing a pretty poor approval slump. Even if she’s a favorite in the primaries, a 2024 or 2028 general election with Harris as the nominee has some Democrats nervous.

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So here’s a modest proposal: Kamala Harris should stand proudly as a tough-on-crime progressive. Crime continues to rise across the country? Denounce efforts to slash police budgets. A pro-riot prison abolitionist is a nominee for city attorney in Seattle? Say how your experience as a prosecutor tuned you to the importance of jailing violent criminals. Leftists slam you as a “cop?” Wear it as a badge of honor.

If Harris really wants to go for the jugular, she should try comparing her record as District Attorney of San Francisco with the current leftist Chesa Boudin. Boudin is facing pressure from a recall campaign that even has his allies criticizing his soft-on-crime approach. Sure, some of the criticisms of Boudin are unjustified, but his aversion toward actually punishing violent criminals has resulted in mass backlash in one of the most left-wing cities in the country. Imagine the vice president saying something like, “As a former prosecutor, I understand our justice system needs reform. But it is not reform and it is not progressive to let hateful, violent felons free and on our streets. I think more DAs ought to look at the excellent record we amassed here in San Francisco, where we created opportunities for rehabilitation while still reducing violent crime significantly.”

Biden’s Secretary of Homeland Security did something similar a few weeks ago, tweeting a  story about how his mom encouraged him to thank police officers. If you read the replies to the tweet, you’ll find countless screeds of leftists outraged that a top government official would have even a moderately favorable view of the police. 

But Twitter is not real life, and Americans of all backgrounds and parties are wildly opposed to cutting police funding, and have strongly favorable views of their local police departments. There is a substantial share of Democratic Party voters that may support reforming the criminal justice system but are opposed to defunding police or abolishing jails. Take a look at Eric Adams, another former cop minority who, like Harris, had a tough-on-crime record. His victory in the high-profile New York Mayoral Race on the backs of working-class people of color voters can serve as a template for a future presidential run by Harris.

Kamala Harris’ record isn’t perfect. Some of the criticisms of her, including her habit of locking up non-violent marijuana users, are absolutely fair. But her instincts on criminal justice policy are severely underrated, and it’d be smart of her to tap into that if she’s eying Biden’s job. People like cops. Kamala should get those people to like her.