To understand where the left might draw that line, it is necessary to first understand the substance of its critique. By questioning Harris and the party’s other rising stars, the left performs necessary political work. It’s vital to criticize Harris’s record as a prosecutor, Cory Booker’s ties to pharmaceutical companies and school reform groups, and Deval Patrick’s work for Bain Capital, as Cooper did in his article for The Week. The problem of extreme income inequality in this country, in which the vast majority of wealth goes to the very people these politicians have either protected, solicited, or worked for, can only be combatted with a similarly drastic redistribution of wealth. Activists are right to wonder if a Patrick or a Booker will deliver the changes the country needs.
Which is precisely why the left doesn’t restrict its criticism to Harris, Patrick, and Booker. As Cooper noted in a follow-up piece on Monday, the same left-wing concerns apply to the white, male members of the party’s establishment. “Leftists like myself believe that in addition to traditional civil rights policy, nothing short of a total overhaul of American capitalism will suffice to actually eradicate oppression from our society,” he wrote. “Neoliberals like Andrew Cuomo and Joe Biden, by contrast, believe that the capitalist framework only needs minor tweaks.” The left’s real focus is beyond Harris or even the Democratic Party: It has more systemic concerns.
However, that broad goal is impossible without allies in government, and the left is not spoiled for choice. A cluster of lawmakers—Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ro Khanna, Keith Ellison, Mark Pocan, and other members of the House Progressive Caucus—are most only the same page with the left, on issues including Medicare-for-All, free college tuition, a federal $15 minimum wage, trust-busting, immigrant rights, and police brutality. But with the exception of Sanders and Ellison, these politicians did not come up through the ranks of the activist left. They have flawed records, as most politicians do, marked by bad positions and dubious compromises.
But that is grounds for criticism, not outright dismissal. The left’s most realistic hope is for a candidate with a spotty record who enthusiastically and sincerely takes up its cause. And that means approaching the party’s Kamala Harrises with flexibility.
In theory, this shouldn’t be difficult for the left to accept. It prides itself on emphasizing policy over personality, in contrast with the establishment. This is what makes the left such a necessary force, and it also implies a certain responsibility. If policy, not personality, is what really matters, there’s no reason to shun a candidate who checks the necessary boxes and pledges to do the necessary work. Harris herself is for universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, and free college tuition.