By Shivaji Sengupta
This Kamala Harris phenomenon is becoming something to pay attention. Her Town Hall appearance on Monday, January 28 broadcast by CNN, broke new records. According to CNN, more than 1.95 million saw the Town Hall proceedings in which Senator Harris answered questions from students in a packed auditorium in Drake University, Iowa. It was hosted by CNN anchorman, Mr. Jake Tapper. Ms. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, who I thought would end up being an also ran, has already confounded nay-sayers. Early though it is – very early – Kamala Harris has shot ahead of a crowded set of candidates aspiring to be president.
I was one of those nay-sayers. To quote Ms. Harris herself, I thought it was “too early…you are not ready…pay your dues first,” but, obviously, she knows exactly what she is doing. Win or lose, she means to make a massive impact on America. To see her facing all of those Drake University students, in front of almost two million people watching on television, Ms. Harris was as impressive as they come. I would compare her influence with Barak Obama’s. His catch phrase, “Yes, we can,” is eminently comparable to Harris’ “For the people.” To see her, interact verbally, intelligently yet with sensitivity and ready knowledge, her taller than average height melding gracefully with a pleasant face and fluid movements, with a ready smile, her eyes shining enthusiasm – all of this is having a mesmerizing effect on the public.
The answers she gave to the many questions asked by the university students all fall under the extreme left category: she is for Medicare for all, in favor of the “biggest middle class tax cut in the history of the country,” with a guarantee of $500 for every couple earning less than a hundred thousand dollars per year; universal checking on anyone planning to buy a gun; and she is for the “New Green Deal,” a relatively recent movement involving environmental protection along with improving the economy through jobs and businesses created by the environment industry.
Many, if not all of these positions, are bound to provide ammunition to Harris’ more right-of-center opponents, but she will cross that bridge when it come. What struck me is the forthright and passionate demeanor with which she answered questions closest to her heart. She left her seat and stood up, walked towards the young woman who asked her about her position on DACA -Differed Action for the Childhood Arrivals. The student was a DACA herself, and she seemed more than in communication with her. It was a communion. She seemed hundred percent involved and committed to ensuring by law to provide these youths with a pathway to citizenship. Would she agree to building the Wall, as a trade off for DACA, Jake Tapper, the host, asked, perhaps with tongue in cheek. No, came the answer without the least bit of hesitation: “I will not consent to bringing a medieval symbolic Wall, that is stupid and it will be ineffective. We live in a highly sophisticated electronic age,” she said, “where those who are professionals at beating concrete barriers will continue to do so to our medieval structures.” The Senator pledged financial and personnel support to increase our national security against undocumented immigrants, but no Wall. The students clapped, seeing absolutely no contradiction between her total commitment to legalize DACA and her flat refusal to use it as a bargain chip. Her own background of being California’s Attorney General also came for scrutiny. When asked by a human rights lawyer about her being tough on crime, and less concerned about reforming criminals, Harris loudly and assertively declared that she was one hundred percent committed to the plight of the criminals, and recounted a number of policies and legislations she helped enact both as California’s attorney general and as a senator. In her political autobiography, she has written – having compassion for the criminal is not enough. One has to walk the straight and narrow path of both doing justice, and yet have enough wherewithal to explore the causes of criminality. Here, in the Town Hall meeting she was, as Ankhi Lindemyer, a young attorney practicing in Virginia, said, “She has the persuasiveness of a prosecutor with the charm of a politician.”
I was thinking, is this a coincidence that within just four years after Barak Obama left the presidency, we have another gigantic multicultural phenomenon of Kamala Harris’ bid for presidency. I don’t think so.
Multiculturalism has come to stay. This year, the Congress for the first time in history has two Muslim women. There are twenty Asian law makers – more than ever – in the Senate and the House of Representatives, with Kamala Harris being the first person, male or female, of Indian origin to become senator. But even as we feel some pride in this, we must remember the struggle we, as Indians, or even as Americans, have carried culturalism’s other pillar: inheritors of British colonialism. This may not be so obvious in the case of Senator Harris, born as she was in the United States, but it certainly was so in her mother’s case. In 1958, when most to most Indians “study abroad” meant going to England, she dared to come to America, another “colony” that had expelled the English, and took over scientific progress as their own mantle. As I saw the senator stand tall and majestic in that Town Hall meeting, I was full of premonition.
We were witnessing a multicultural phenomenon combining many strands: Indian, African, woman and postcolonial.
By Shivaji Sengupta