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Kamala Harris will prop up the US state

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Issue 2730
Kamala Harris is walking a tightrope (Pic: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

What role will vice president-elect Kamala Harris play in the new government?

Harris is widely applauded as the first woman, and first black person, to be elected to the position. Many hope that she will be a strong voice against oppression.

But there are signs that Biden hopes to use her to police the Democrat left and tone down demands for radical change.

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which has been instrumental in shaping US politics this year, poses a huge threat to the in-coming government.

It has targeted state racism, and in particular the almost weekly killing of black people by police. 

BLM has turned slogans to “defund the police” and “prison abolition” into popular calls that can mobilise thousands.

“The Squad”, the handful of left Democrats re-elected to Congress last week, understand well the movement’s appeal.

Noting the left threat, the Observer newspaper this week demanded that “Kamala Harris, the no‑nonsense vice president‑elect, should be tasked with keeping them in line.”


Harris’s record on questions that particularly affect black people is at best contradictory.

It is true, for example, that she pushed for people convicted of a crime to be helped to find jobs, rather than be put in prison. But she also fought to keep people in prison after they were proved innocent.

Harris did not demand the death penalty for a man convicted of killing a cop, but also defended California’s death penalty system in court.

She initiated police training in racial bias, but also resisted calls to investigate particular police shootings.

This elaborate balancing act reflects twin pressures upon the Democrat machine.

On the one hand, there is the constant pressure to appear “tough on crime”, and appease the right. On the other there are the millions of Democrat voters who are appalled by the regular revelations of police racism that make it to the news.

But now in government, Bidden and Harris will surely find that balance firmly tipped in favour of maintaining a strong state—and a muzzled left.

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