Kamala Harris’messaging on busing out of touch 40 years later

The eye catcher ….

Kamala Harris attacked fellow Democratic candidate Joe Biden during last night’s second round of debates between Democrats vying for their party’s blessing to go up against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in November 2020.  Ms. Harris scored points on Mr. Biden when the U.S. senator from California challenged his position in the early 1970s on school busing.  Ms. Harris asserted that Mr. Biden was against busing, the policy that transferred black students from schools in poor neighborhoods with under-performing, under-funded schools to schools in majority white, more affluent communities.  Ms. Harris argued that were it not for that policy, she would not have enjoyed the personal and professional success she is enjoying now.

From the perspective of a candidate seeking votes in the political markets, does the issue of busing resonate enough with the electorate’s fear that the narrative will garner votes?  The answer is no.

Ms. Harris’ busing argument doesn’t address Americans’ fears …

For millions of Americans, the issue of busing does not pull at the heart strings.  With a median age of 38 years, the policy of busing was waning when half of America was alive.  For the past two decades, cities across the United States have implemented remedial plans to address the problem of school segregation.  Ms. Harris’ mother faced the fear of her daughter receiving a less than stellar education in their neighborhood and likely believed this was the best or only available option.  And while there is still the concern about poor funding in low-income neighborhoods, options, including vouchers, charter schools, private schools, and relocation are available to alleviate these fears.

But while the issue of busing will quickly fade from the memories of the electorate who watched last night’s debate, what may linger a little longer is Ms. Harris’ performance.  The push back on Mr. Biden included a picture of Ms. Harris as a school girl and when combined with the tone and delivery of Ms. Harris’ remarks provided enough of an emotional message to connect with people in the audience and with traders in the political futures markets as the price of an event contract on Ms. Harris’ nomination climbed as much as seven cents last night on PredictIt.

But her performance may not address the fear of some in the black community that her record as a prosecutor does not reflect serious attempts at law enforcement reform.  There is the argument that her record is mixed, having not done enough to address the efficacy of investigating police shootings, declining to weigh in on recreational use of marijuana, and her defense of the death penalty.

Kamala Harris, while probably liked by her sorority sisters and the professional class, may not be endeared by those who have had a less than pleasant run-in with law enforcement.

Conclusion: Kamala Harris has work to do …

Ms. Harris has managed to present energized optics over the past 24 hours, but in the 21st century digital world, those optics can be blurred quickly by opposing messaging provided on tens or hundreds of other mediums.  Right now as I type this post, Joe Biden is mounting an energetic rebuttal to Ms. Harris on C-SPAN and while the political futures markets have Ms. Harris’ selling at a higher price than Mr. Biden, the ability for Mr. Biden to go on a policy offensive across multiple platforms with a deeper bench of media and civic leader support could put him back in the driver’s seat.


Author: Alton Drew

I graduated from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and political science (1984); a Master of Public Administration (1993); and a Juris Doctor (1999). You can follow me on Twitter @altondrew.

3 thoughts on “Kamala Harris’messaging on busing out of touch 40 years later”

  1. Great article. I was just sharing with friends and colleagues that Harris’ experience is not my experience and I’m older and lived back in NYC.

    Busing locally that Harris’ parents sought may have helped her but I have to weight my experience and kids I grew up with that were shipped from Black East NY (Ocean-Hill Brownsville) to Bay Ridge.

    To me, it was akin tin Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing for 9 and 10 year olds. A horrible experience in the early 1970s.

    The busing experience was a failure in our communities especially when you’re a truly black communities like East NY Brooklyn. To forcibly introduce black and brown children to communities they don’t live in and force white 1st and 2nd generation Western European, mostly Irish and Italian communities to engage in a 20 mile daily trek to school was trauma inducing at a minimum. My experience was mitigated by smart and engaged parents who had solid cultural relationships with all demographics and religions but that was not the experience of all of my friends, who were forced to engaged at 10 years old with racist educators and school administrators.

    There was such a controversial matter that there was an uptick in enrollment in parochial schools. I live in the SF Bay Area now and just yesterday met a cab driver who was Jewish and he told me his parents enrolled him in Catholic school because public schools sucked in his community (he’s from the Central Valley of California) and that was their work around to keep from shipping he and his siblings out of their area.

    It was so bad that my mom actually got her teacher credential, just to bring a more balanced education opportunity to the local neighborhood kids.

    So while that will resonate for her in California, it may feel different entirely from states she needs to win to secure the nomination.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Carol. I never saw how black neighborhoods would benefit from busing. The emphasis should have been placed on improving the neighborhoods and their schools, not siphoning off the children. And yes, this is not a winning issue for Senator Harris.

      1. Enough with the mud wresting since she is entitled to her position. But since I’m also older than her and my experience is what Vice President Biden articulates in his memoir, let’s stop debating the past since he has a record that folks will conveniently forget, including the Crime Bill since that was the time that mirrored New Jack City and crack addicted family members like Samuel L Jackson’s Gator in Jungle Fever (communities overrun with crack cocaine and drug dealing and folks stealing from their own families to fuel their crack addition).

        Litigating the past aside, since we had 3 Democratic Presidents since that time and here we are fifty years later.

        I want to hear HER plan to fix it.

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