LSA junior Eman Naga said that after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, dropped out of the Democratic primary race, former Vice President Joe Biden would need to earn her vote.
Now, Naga says she probably will vote for Biden, but that his selection of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has nothing to do with her willingness to vote for the Democratic ticket.
“It doesn’t change anything for me,” she said.
Harris was widely seen as a safe pick to be the Vice President’s running mate. Her stances on policy generally align with Biden’s; she’s proven herself to be an effective debater; and her experience as a senator gives her the governing experience one would need to step into office — a notable concern as, if elected, Biden, age 77, would be the oldest president to ever take office.
As the first Black woman and person of Indian descent to be nominated for the vice presidential ticket, Harris made history.
But for many progressive students, Biden’s selection of Harris does little to sway them in favor of the Democratic ticket.
LSA senior Elias Khoury, president of Michigan’s Democratic Socialists of America chapter, found Biden’s pick to be unbecoming of where he feels the Democratic party should be going.
“As an organization, we cannot, in good faith, endorse candidates who diverge so greatly from our deeply-held values and principles,” Khoury said.
Public Policy graduate student Eli Gold, a member of the Policy for the People organization, had a simple reaction when he heard that Biden had selected Harris as his running mate.
“Bored,” Gold said. “I think that it was a boring selection.”
The California senator was formerly a prosecutor, district attorney and California’s Attorney General and has received criticism for being, in her own words, a “tough cop.” Harris has been criticized for failing to take stronger stances in matters concerning police misconduct, as well as for an anti-truancy policy that threatened parents with prosecution if their kids were chronically truant. Harris has since said she regrets supporting that policy.
For Khoury, it is that record as a prosecutor — as well as her positions on foriegn policy — that draws the line.
“Harris has a lot of skeletons in her closet regarding her time as a prosecutor, and her record on foreign policy is abysmal,” Khoury said. “Regardless of what she might say, she is no progressive. Thus, our organization will stick to our commitment not to endorse this ticket.”
Another critique progressive students make of Harris is that they feel she lacks a strong political backbone.
“I don’t think that she has much ideology of her own,” Gold said. “I think that she goes where the wind blows.”
Harris faced criticism during the primary for appearing to reverse course on abolishing private insurance. “Let’s eliminate all of that,” Harris said of private insurance at a CNN Town Hall last year. The next day, the Harris campaign reversed that stance. Additionally, Harris raised her hand during a debate to signal that she was in favor of abolishing private insurance. She later said she had misunderstood the question.
Gold noted these reversals on health care as evidence for why he thinks Harris is flimsy on policy.
“As someone who supported Medicare for all, it was interesting that early in the campaign season she said ‘I am willing to get rid of the insurance industry and support Medicare for all,’ and then backtracked on that very quickly,” he said. “She thought that was going to be a winning line early on and then reversed on it without really batting an eye, just like, ‘oh, this isn’t actually where the winning line is right now.’”
Naga echoed this concern, saying she doesn’t believe Harris has a consistent political ideology.
“She’s kind of flip-flopped ideologically, she’s kind of like an ideological shape-shifter,” she said. “She will be progressive, and then she’ll change her mind a few days later.”
Some of these students say they would have liked to see Biden choose a more progressive running mate. To them, Biden choosing Harris was a missed opportunity.
Khoury, for example, said the more progressive candidates who Biden had been considering aligned more with where the Democratic party stands.
“There were better options Biden could have gone with,” Khoury said. “The politics of Karen Bass and Elizabeth Warren both align more closely with the country’s majority, who are far better on the issues than they are typically given credit for.”
Naga said that she would have liked to see more progressive Black candidates considered, such as former State Senator Nina Turner, D-Ohio, and Former National Press Secretary for Sanders’ campaign Briahna Joy Gray. Naga also said she thinks Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s would have been a compelling pick, citing her handling of COVID-19 in Michigan.
While the lack of support for Harris is prominent, not all students — not even all progressive students — share this sentiment for the pick.
Public Policy senior Grace Hermann, chair of the Michigan’s College Democrats chapter, said that she supports Harris being on the ticket.
“Senator Harris is an incredibly capable and intelligent leader, and her strong voice in the Senate will be an asset to VP Biden’s campaign,” Hermann said.
Hermann acknowledged that there are some members of her organization who do not approve of Harris.
“It is healthy to think critically about our leadership and their records, and I have heard people express warranted frustration with this ticket,” Hermann said.
But rather than defending Biden’s selection against attacks from the left, Hermann thinks Democrats should be focused on mobilizing those who do support the ticket.
“There are a lot of people who are excited and energized by this ticket — and it is critical that we mobilize them,” she said. “Rather than spending our energy defending Senator Harris’s prosecutorial record, Democrats should channel that energy into making phone calls, talking with people, and engaging in our communities.”
Business sophomore George Asher, co-president of Students for Progressive Strategies, also supports the selection despite Harris not being the most progressive option.
“Our goal is progressive candidates, and although we may not have a fully progressive lineup with Biden and Kamala Harris, I think it’s amazing because it’s showing what the Democratic party can do right now in terms of fighting against (Donald) Trump,” Asher said. “Although as a prosecutor she did have kind of an iffy record, I think she can do a lot of good things that could help our nation get back on track.”
Asher had not supported Biden in the primary but has since come around to embrace the ticket. And unlike Naga, for Asher, Biden selecting Harris was central to that convergence.
“I think Harris put me over the edge,” he said.
Daily Staff Reporter John Grieve can be reached at email@example.com.