Bill Whalen

Glowing coverage of Kamala Harris ignores reality

If you’ve already had your fill of a presidential election still 21 months from fruition, here’s some good news: You needn’t worry about the nomination process.

It seems California’s junior senator is well on her way to her party’s coronation. That’s impressive considering Kamala Harris formally announced her candidacy a little over two weeks ago. In that brief time, she’s instantly merited “top-tier” status, according to The Los Angeles Times. Then, she advanced to “front of the pack,” according to CNN.

At this rate, the rest of the Democratic field should be conceding by Valentine’s Day. Speaking of valentines, the media’s fawning coverage of Harris speaks to two failings of political journalism.

One is an unhealthy fascination with identity politics. Harris has Jamaican and Asian-Indian ancestry. Politico California described Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, no longer a presidential hopeful, as “a fourth-generation Angeleno of Mexican-Italian-Jewish descent.” CNN called New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is running, “an unmarried vegan.”

Funny, but I don’t remember the lead sentences in George H.W. Bush’s obituaries describing the late president as “a purebred WASP with direct ties to the Mayflower arrivals.”

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The other political media fail: style over substance. Harris has a lot of the former, but not so much the latter. Her Iowa town hall event the day after her Oakland kickoff was marred by confusion over where she stands on single-payer health care.

But that might not matter as long as the political media treat Harris as emblematic of the Trump-trashing, left-leaning California they love – as opposed to the nation-state that doesn’t look so good at closer range.

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Bill Whalen

This may be why Garcetti chose to spend his days in City Hall, not Sioux City. Good luck promising a brighter tomorrow when the metropolis you govern is beset by a typhus scourge and a countywide homeless population – nearly 53,000 – that could fill Dodger Stadium.

As a former San Francisco prosecutor, Harris doesn’t have to answer for her former city’s decay and desecration. What a relief it must be to not explain to voters in opioid-plagued New Hampshire why San Francisco has more injection drug users (24,500) than enrolled high school students (16,000).

Nor does Harris risk getting the cold shoulder from caucus-goers in arctic Iowa for San Francisco’s decision to put the kibosh on furriers.

“The sale of fur products in San Francisco is inconsistent with the City’s ethos of treating all living beings, humans and animals alike, with kindness,” said SF district supervisor Katy Tang. “We’re trying to pave the way to a less cruel future of fashion.”

Harris has many positive attributes as a presidential candidate. She’s telegenic. As a relative newcomer to national politics, she’s more of a novelty than the familiar likes of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

But Harris’ ace in the hole could be the media jet stream effect. It’s the view (from 2,500 miles to the east) of California as an ultra-progressive government-to-the rescue, paradise on Earth – forging ahead on single-payer health care, expanding immigrants’ rights, unapologetically raising taxes and suing the Trump Administration with the frequency of Kardashian selfies.

Never mind the piddling details about schools going broke, pension funds losing tens of millions of dollars thanks to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s travails, and state coffers that may or may not be able to weather the inevitable recession. None of those issues falls under Kamala Harris’ Senate portfolio. Thanks to a media smitten with California’s deep blue predilections, she needn’t bother. It’s an already-scheduled flight to Houston, Miami or Milwaukee – reportedly, the finalists for next year’s Democratic National Convention.

Why not make the senator’s life a little easier? Bring next year’s Democratic National Convention to San Francisco, so Harris doesn’t have to travel far to receive the nomination the media presume is already hers.

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at whalenoped@gmail.com.
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