Review: Kamala Harris in her own words

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Ca., leaves a campaign event at Miami Dade College in Miami, Monday, Oct. 29, 2018.  (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In her new memoir, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, Senator Kamala D. Harris, Democrat of California, positions herself as an underdog, a savvy “top cop” and, most of all, Shyamala Gopalan’s daughter. Harris’s mother serves as a north star and a shoulder to cry on, a wellspring of defiance and the oratorical bedrock of a likely presidential campaign.

Advertisement
The Truths We Holdby Kamala Harris

Penguin Press, 336p $18

A civil-rights activist and breast-cancer researcher in Northern California during the 1960s, Gopalan was Harris’s most ardent cheerleader. An April 22, 2004, article in The San Jose Mercury News noted that Harris, then district attorney of San Francisco, had on her desk a “large vase of fragrant white roses with a message card that reads ‘Courage!’ They were sent by her mother.” At the time, public officials like Senator Dianne Feinstein were criticizing Harris for not seeking the death penalty against a man accused of killing a police officer.

Like the author of any mid-career political memoir, Kamala Harris is angling for a promotion.

The Truths We Hold does not include the death-penalty episode, which the Bay Area press covered extensively. But many anecdotes in the memoir follow a similar formula: Harris goes against the grain and causes a stir. Or she defies the odds—usually by winning a race people said she couldn’t—leaving her adversaries in the dust. In times of great stress, her mother, a strong-willed Indian immigrant, buoys her. “Don’t do anything half-assed,” she used to tell Harris.

Like the author of any mid-career political memoir, Harris is angling for a promotion. She takes the liberty to airbrush facets of her record that may be unpalatable to progressive Democratic primary voters. Discussing her crackdown on truancy as attorney general of California, she writes, “We wanted schools to reach out to parents with information…about resources they might not have been aware of—support the city and school district offered to make it easier to get their kids to school.” On Jan. 11, at a book event in New York, she also made reference to her record on truancy. The initiative, geared toward dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, levied steep fines against noncompliant parents (who tend to be poor) and even brought criminal charges against them.

Harris also denounces the war on drugs, presenting a criminal-justice platform that rests in part on marijuana legalization, a position she did not publicly support as late as 2014, when she sought another term as attorney general.

As district attorney of San Francisco, Harris drew criticism from Jeff Adachi, the city’s public defender, for neglecting to disclose the identities of “more than 80 officers [with] convictions, arrests or disciplinary records that, by law, should have been revealed to defense attorneys” when they testified at trial. And in 2015, with the #BlackLivesMatter movement in full swing, Harris said she did not support implementing statewide standards for body-worn cameras. Asked in New York on Jan. 11 about criminal justice reform, she said she does not believe in “false choices”—that is, a choice between supporting law enforcement and holding police accountable.

Kamala Harris: “The truth is that the economy stopped rewarding and valuing most hard work a long time ago. And we’ve got to acknowledge that if we’re going to change it.”

Though criminal justice is the cornerstone of the book, Harris also offers policy prescriptions related to income inequality. “The truth is that the economy stopped rewarding and valuing most hard work a long time ago,” Harris writes. “And we’ve got to acknowledge that if we’re going to change it.” In October 2018, Harris proposed a middle-class tax credit—a stipend of up to $500 per month for households with annual incomes less than $100,000.

She devotes a 30-page chapter called “Underwater” to the foreclosure crisis of the early 2010s. In 2011, Harris walked away from a $2 billion settlement deal offered by the banks—she called it “crumbs on the table.” At her direction, the state of California launched its own investigation into mortgage fraud. “Look, we’re a guest at someone else’s party and we don’t have our own car,” Harris recalls in the book. “We need our own ride so that when we’re ready to leave, we can leave.” Preparing to speak on the phone with Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, she “took off my earrings (the Oakland in me) and picked up the receiver.” Eventually she secured a $20 billion deal.

The child of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris was the first woman, first Asian-American and first African-American in U.S. history to serve as a state attorney general. She is also California’s first non-white senator. Buffing her underdog credentials, she said at the event in New York that she has always been told, “It’s not your turn, it’s not your time, no one like you has ever done this before.”

When Gopalan was in the hospital, dying of colon cancer, she asked Harris how the race for attorney general was going. “Mommy,” said Harris, “these guys are saying they’re gonna kick my ass.” Gopalan rolled over and smiled.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
1 month ago

Missing from the article is her anti Catholic attitudes.

Ron Martel
1 month ago

Half way through and see many Catholic attitudes.

Jeffrey More
1 month ago

This woman is an unprincipled opportunist, and an anti-catholic bigot. America magazine will probably endorse her candidacy for president.

Ron Martel
1 month ago

Wonders if any have read the book

John Maloof
1 month ago

KH has shown she is ready and willing to do anything to promote self aggrandizement and advance her politic promotion at the expense of the rest of us. Breaking rules, dismissing those who disagree with her point of view, engaging in questionable personal and professional conduct, are all part of the KH personality on her road to attain even more politic power. I trust she will fail in this quest.

Stanley Kopacz
1 month ago

If what you say is true, sounds like she's presidential material given what's squatting in that position at the moment.

THOMAS E BRANDLIN, MNA
1 month ago

Right-on Mr. Cosgrove, Mr. More, and Mr. Maloof! Mr. Kopacz, to the be charitable part of the America comment policy? Just because you don't like the President is no reason to describe him in bathroom terms.

Why is America Magazine promoting such an anti-life and anti-Catholic politician?

Stanley Kopacz
1 month ago

The imagery was meant to be feral not fecal, but take it as you wish.

Ron Martel
1 month ago

Trump is lower than that.

Todd Witherell
1 month ago

When Kansas met Kenya, momentous were the results. What happens when India meets Jamaica in the city of St. Francis? Too soon to say for sure, but worth watching!

Denise Delurgio
1 month ago

First this, first that, but not the first to sleep her way ahead with Willie Brown. Come on, America, research your bios.

Scott Burdette
1 month ago

In the past, America Magazine has dismissed Father Charles Coughlin as a demagogue who used the depression to become popular. What were some of his political views to fix America? Attack the federal reserve, STRONGLY support labor unions, support high taxes on the wealthy to fund a universal basic income for the poor.

America has a right to highlight politicians like Harris and Cortez, but their ideas were easily dismissed as recently as a few years ago by this very publication. Perhaps they are taking a cue from Rome in making the (still thriving) Royal Oak church built during the depression (art deco) by Coughlin a minor basillica. He was a priest in good standing (with the church, not the federal government) and as such some charity is in order.

Scott Cooper
1 month ago

Simply amazed that America would publish such a glowing puff piece on Senator Harris. At least a number of intelligent and perceptive readers as evidenced below noticed and are calling the editors to task.
If she was only beholden to, and in the pocket of, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and Emily’s List as she clearly is, and as are so many of her fellow Democratic politicians, that would be enough. But her clear anti-Catholic bigotry, denial of free speech rights as in California’s persecution of pregnancy crisis centers, and her morally questionable (and very unfeminist) means of getting ahead in politics, all should have at least warranted some type of critical analysis of the senator.
Gee, do you think I can purchase her book directly through America’s website?

Ron Martel
1 month ago

Guess she hit a nerve and will be an excellent candidate.

Joan Sheridan
1 month ago

I agree with the other readers who could not believe this was in America magazine.

Joan Sheridan
1 month ago

I agree with the other readers who could not believe this was in America magazine.

Advertisement

The latest from america

Jerome Neyrey's new book displays the many ways in which Jesus was not only “like us in all things” but also definitely a person incarnated in his own culture.
Michael V. Tueth, S.J.February 22, 2019
In 'The Dangers of Christian Practice,' Lauren Winner shows that even our holiest religious practices create characteristic distortions.
Patrick Gilger, S.J.February 22, 2019
Arnold Offner's biography shows Hubert Humphrey as a serious man who sought a serious goal: the betterment of his fellow Americans, whether through persuasion or legislation.
Joseph McAuleyFebruary 22, 2019
Frank Bidart tells us he came the closest to finding himself in his own poetry—and even then, not really.
Paul MarianiFebruary 22, 2019