From Hater to Hopeful: How Netroots Nation Changed My Opinion of Kamala Harris

Illustration for article titled From Hater to Hopeful: How Netroots Nation Changed My Opinion of Kamala Harris
Photo: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)

“You’re just a hater!”

“She’s the only one who can carry black women!”

“So you want Trump to get re-elected?”

I hear these things all the time from my political friends. Usually right after I air-drop fifty-kajillion gallons of cold water on their fantasy of a Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) led Democratic ticket beating Donald Trump in the 2020 election. I’m not a hater of course, I’m just a realist, and a political scientist, and somebody who wants Trump booted out of office. Ever since Harris’s Senate Intelligence hearings, where she had Jeff Sessions so shook he was calling for a tap-out, “pundits” started whispering about her as a 2020 “contender.” But I never saw it. In fact, over the last year all I could see was 13 reasons why she wouldn’t win one Democratic primary let alone beat Trump.


However, it’s 2018 now and times have changed. Kamala Harris’ performance at the Netroots Nation Conference in New Orleans last weekend has me re-evaluating her chances. I’m not quite ready to join the #K-Hive yet, but I am feeling a little buzzed.

Netroots Nation is an annual conference where left-wing tech activists share strategy, messages, advice and lots of “medicinal” marijuana. Whatever and whoever is trending after Netroots Nation is usually a force to be reckoned with in Democratic politics. I went to my first Netroots Nation in 2009 and this guy swore Twitter was going to be the next big thing in politics. I thought he was crazy, back then as the biggest thing on Twitter was Ashton Kutcher. Yet, here we are almost 10 years later and World War III will probably be started with 142 characters. Because Netroots Nation attracts thousands of attendees from across the country, Democratic presidential hopefuls clamor for the chance to be a keynote speaker. When it’s good you end up like Stacey Abrams, whose 2017 Netroots Nation speech helped her win the Democratic primary in Georgia. When it’s bad you’re Bernie Sanders in 2015, who morphed into the Larry David of politics by getting into a fight with Black Lives Matter protestors on stage. Harris, along with Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and others all came to Netroots in New Orleans, La. to kiss the left-wing-ring, and to my surprise Kamala Harris did the best job.

She was engaging , enthusiastic, the crowed loved her, and her political free-style was creative.

“The power of the people is greater than the people in power,” she said, following up with some silver-tongued shade for the Democratic Party’s treatment of African American women.

“The truth is, the folks who have helped build the Democratic Party and have been the backbone of the Democratic Party have not always been given equal voice and we need to deal with that,” she said.

Her best lines were about how racism and white nationalism aren’t just about #BBQBeckys and criminal justice, they are also national security issues. Terrorism is terrorism even if they’re wearing khaki pants and have LA Fitness memberships. For the first time Kamala Harris sounded like someone ready to lay out policies and make a run for office instead of being the inside the beltway fave that she’s been for the last year and a half. Now does that mean on January 20, 2021, she’s going to be forwarding all of her mail to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Of course not. She’s still got a ton of problems.

Kamala Harris was California’s attorney general from 2011 to 2017, and that means every shooting of an unarmed black person, every dirty cop scandal and every mass incarceration story from that era will fall in her lap during the primaries. That’s before you get to her advocacy for prison slavery. Plus, the Democratic primary electorate in 2020 will want to “Win, win, win no matter what,” (DJ Khaled voice) and I don’t see them wanting to rock the boat with a black woman at the top of the ticket against a weakened Donald Trump. Further, Harris will struggle to win black votes against Cory Booker and women’s votes against Elizabeth Warren, both of whom are more well-known and don’t have scandals. Lastly, and this is why I’m called a hater, Kamala Harris has a white husband and no biological kids. Anyone who thinks that won’t matter is lying to themselves, especially in Iowa and South Carolina.


Back in 2008, before your grandma replaced that faded living room photo of Malcom, Martin and Jesse with the Obama family Christmas card, black folks, especially black women, didn’t know if they could trust the light-skinned bi-racial guy with the funny name. It was his very black, very Southside of Chicago wife, Michelle Obama, who went down to visit the Deltas, the AKAs and church mothers in South Carolina and Virginia to assure them he was a good man and that he was down. Talk to any black woman old enough to vote in 2008 and they’ll tell you that Michelle Obama was a difference maker in that campaign, for black men and women. Do you really think Kamala Harris white Jewish husband Doug Emhoff is going to be able to visit the weekly meeting of 100 Black Men in Charleston and secure their vote for her? Is he going to go to the Kappa Barbecue and rally those brothers on her behalf? Not a chance. Like it or not #AllSpousesMatter.

Now, I know this all sounds like a contradiction, I start off by saying I can sort of understand the #K-Hive after Netroots Nation, then finish by laying out every single reason why a Harris campaign is dead on arrival. Look, she’s obviously qualified, you could slap a toupée on Alexa and we’d have a more qualified president than Trump. The issue is now that Kamala Harris showed she can move the base at an event like Netroots, we have to take her candidacy seriously and not just as a fantasy symbolic run by DC insiders, and part of taking her seriously is being very clear about the weaknesses she’ll have in running for the nomination, let alone the presidency. So I’m no longer a Harris hater, and we’ll see if she can continue the momentum she started last Friday for the next two years. In the meantime, I’ll turn my attention to why I don’t think Cory Booker has a chance to win either.


Captain Splendid

I wish people would stop stanning for Warren. Yeah I love her too, but every single overt and covert signal she’s ever broadcast since she got elected to the Senate is that she’s not at all interested in running for President.

Personally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a Gillibrand/Harris ticket.  I truly think this is the best possible combo for 2020.