By FROMA HARROP
During the Thursday debate, Kamala Harris went straight for Joe Biden’s jugular over his alleged failures on race matters. The day after, however, Keisha Lance Bottoms, the black mayor of arguably America’s blackest city, Atlanta, endorsed Biden for the Democratic nomination. And according to The Daily Beast, a Democracy Corps poll had Biden’s favorability with African Americans up by net 18 percent after the debate.
What gives? Didn’t the Twitter left just declare that Harris had eviscerated Biden? As usual, it interpreted events according to its own assumptions — and reporters, as usual, ran with the story being told in the loudest voices.
In endorsing Biden, Bottoms cited his experience and ability to beat Donald Trump. And she dismissed the attacks on Biden for having worked with avowed racists in the Senate.
“The larger context was that you have to work across the aisle with people you don’t like, people you don’t agree with,” Bottoms said. “I do it each and every day as mayor of Atlanta in a red state.”
She went on: “My position is, if his explanation was good enough for John Lewis, then it’s good enough for me.” Lewis is a civil rights icon who has also defended Biden.
Harris’ performance showed her to be smart and aggressive. It also showed her to be obnoxious.
She kept hitting Biden over the head for his opposition in the ‘70s to federally mandated school busing. Busing was a well-intentioned attempt to integrate schools by assigning children to schools outside their neighborhoods on the basis of their race. Almost everyone hated it. A Gallup poll at the time indicated that only 9 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites preferred busing as a means of integrating schools.
In practice, school busing led to white flight out of the cities and into private schools. It did little or nothing to improve the academic performance of African American students.
Rarely spoken is the reality that the busing plans were about class as well as race. In Boston, busing inconvenienced mainly low-income whites and low-income blacks. The totally segregated white suburbs were left untouched.
Harris had said nothing about busing before the debate. Afterward, The Washington Post asked her campaign whether a proposal on busing would be forthcoming. The campaign did not respond.
C’mon, Kamala. Show us your plan to bring back busing.
Harris claimed authority to speak on matters of race “as the only black person on the stage.” Asterisk required. She is black but also the daughter of two affluent immigrants. Her mother, born in India, was a breast cancer researcher, and her Jamaican father is an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford University.
Thus, her forebears were never subjected to the traumas of slavery and Jim Crow. In other words, her experience is not the black American experience. This may be on the minds of African Americans who don’t feel as strong ties to her as to Barack Obama’s vice president.
Biden’s listless performance on Thursday is a cause for legitimate concern. It is his job to reverse that impression.
Do recall, however, the similarity to Obama’s disastrous first debate with Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Obama was defensive and flat as Romney steamrolled him.
Burned by the bad reviews, Obama came out swinging in the second debate. It is hoped that Biden does likewise.
Some on the hothead left have held Biden’s appeal among the working-class whites as a strike against him. But that may be exactly why Obama chose him as his running mate. (Some Democrats really care about winning.)
As of now, Biden still seems to be the Democrat best able to deny Trump a second term. Given the stakes, nothing else should matter.