How the VP can lead the “culture wars” fight
This summer will be all hands on deck for Democrats to protect abortion rights. For Vice President Harris, however, she has more work cut out for her.
You have to admit that she has seen her public image dropping. She has been doing all of the standard vice-presidential things. She did a network sit-down interview, she went to meet world leaders, she gave some speeches.
It’s hard to remember how she was played with zest and verve by Maya Rudolph on SNL. What is SNL saying about her now? This, from March 5 Weekend Update’s Michael Che: “Many of the members of Congress attending the State of the Union wore blue and yellow to show their support for Ukraine, while Kamala Harris wore all brown to do what she’s done for the last year: Disappear into the background.” (The joke is at the 1:50 mark.)
For the summer, Harris needs to perk things up. It is after all a campaign year, giving her lots of opportunities for fun and excitement. Let’s start with some sight-seeing. I don’t know the extent to which Harris has had time to do much touring around on the East Coast as she hasn’t been here that long.
First stop: Historic Jamestown, although she should go sooner than later before it disappears. If you want to highlight how Black people fared here in the colonies over the centuries, and Harris should do that, you have to start here. 1619 isn’t a myth, or a random year, or some made-up stand-in for racism in society. As Robert Trent Vinson, a professor of history and Africana at the College of William and Mary put it, when Africans who landed near today’s Hampton Roads, VA, and were taken to Jamestown, it was “the beginning of a particular racialized slavery.”
Landowners realized they were getting a permanent labor force, not an indentured servant who could be released after a particular length of years, Vinson said. From Jamestown came “the racial caste system and ideas, ideologies of white supremacy and Black inferiority.”
At Jamestown, Harris could walk around the site with the historians, see where certain buildings were and what the significance was. It’s an active archaeological site and all of the useful objects are kept in a room where scientists evaluate them for their significance. She could see some of those found treasures for herself.
She could take questions touring the start of slave culture, implying if not stating directly, that racism was present at the creation.
Jamestown might take up most of a morning. For the afternoon, Harris could travel a few miles west to Colonial Williamsburg. The recreated town full of costumed actors has been a tourist (and school field trip) destination for decades.
For most of that time, Williamsburg ignored the Black population. In recent years, however, they have started in their research, archaeology, and on-site characters, to present a more realistic representation of the Black population. They had one misstep when they presented a mock slave auction, but most of the program now is better prepared and more sensitive.
Again, the optics would be great for Harris, as she talks with Black characters about life in Colonial times. There could be another press availability, a chance for her to talk about Black life in the Virginia colony.
Now, you might say that bringing issues like 1619 and the critical role of race, in theory and practice, to the fore would be engaging in the Republican culture wars. You would be right. That’s exactly the idea, and it’s about time.
That’s just the start of Harris’ summer. Her second task is to fight back against the hate laws that are infecting schools and the book banning that’s diminishing libraries. She has to mend the big hole that Terry McAuliffe left after his failed gubernatorial campaign in Virginia let the fleece-vested one claim ownership of parents.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-Trump) won in large part because he sided with “parents” who wanted control over health conditions, curriculum (non-existent critical race theory) and which books are appropriate. McAuliffe could have squashed this immediately by letting Virginians know that the parents in Youngkin’s corner aren’t the only parents in the Commonwealth. Instead, he gave it a pass.
Now Harris’ job should be to firm up the parental groups forming around the country to fight back against the censors and book-burners. In Texas, parents are filing suit against politicians taking over the local library. Education Week reports that rallies against book banning have taken place in Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Across the country, school board members who only wanted to keep children safe and healthy were threatened over mask mandates.
For years, Democrats decline to fight the “culture wars,” instead focusing on “kitchen table” issues. That’s a mistake, particularly this year when the main “kitchen table” issue is inflation, as seen on every front page and newscast every day. Democrats can campaign on the money for bridges and roads and the support (now running out) that people and businesses got during the worst of the pandemic and that Republicans (and some Democrats) don’t want to renew.
The culture war, on the other hand, can be won. Look how one speech from a “straight, white, Christian suburban mom” went viral attacking the latest noxious attack lines — that politicians who oppose anti-gay bills are “grooming” kids to be gay. There are gay and trans kids out there, and parents of gay and trans kids.
I’ll bet there are people in Florida astounded that the state banned 54 math text books because they contained “critical race theory,” among other insane things happening in Florida. Not everyone will have the gumption to use the book-banning law to ask that the Bible be banned. This year, there have been more than 1,500 book bans in schools so far.
Politics is as much, if not more, about emotion and about rallying your supporters than it is about legislation. The old “good policy is good politics” mantra that Democrats used to live by is gone. Democrats have to get fired up and ready to go. One way to do that is to confront Republicans on their home turf, show Democrats and independents that there are issues worth fighting for and today’s leaders are willing to carry that fight, particularly for causes as unpopular as book bans.
Harris can go around the country and meet the gay kids and trans kids and their parents who want to protect them. She can hold sessions in libraries with people who don’t want books banned by the right wing. She can invite people to the White House who are also parents, and show that the Republicans who claim the mantle of protecting parents don’t speak for everyone. These people and this cause need a champion. Let Kamala Harris spend her summer starting to be that champion.