Sen. Kamala Harris kicked off her presidential bid in Oakland, Calif., on Sunday. In front of throngs of people and a beautiful backdrop, the California Democrat launched her campaign in a speech that was a blend of inspiration and criticism. She delivered a scathing review of the Trump administration and conservatism — and she smiled while doing it.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, Harris came across as hard-hitting but with a soft, honey-coated edge. Harris laced her speech with a touch of religious lingo, telling the crowd she was going to only “speak truth” to those listening.
But she left out the whole truth.
1. “Let’s speak truth about our economy. Our economy today is not working for working people. The cost of living is going up, but paychecks aren’t keeping up … The truth, is our people are drowning in debt. Record student loan debt. Car loan debt. Credit card debt. Resorting to payday lenders because you can’t keep up with the bills.”
This is a large generalization. While no economy is perfect, the economy under President Trump has done quite well. In December, the U.S. added 312,000 jobs up from 176,000, doubling the previous prediction. The unemployment rate has gone from 10 percent in 2009 to less than 4 percent now. As one Forbes contributor said, it’s “about as low as it can go.”
While student loan, car loan, and credit card debts are high, Harris’ insinuation is that this is somehow Trump’s fault. It’s not. It’s a personal responsibility issue known as “keeping up with the Joneses” and no politician can curb personal greed, poor money habits, or good-old-fashioned jealousy of what your neighbor has.
2. “Let’s speak another truth about our economy. Women are paid on average 80 cents on the dollar. Black women, 63 cents. Latinas, 53 cents. And here’s the thing. When we lift up the women of our country, we lift up the children of our country. We lift up the families of our country. And the whole of society benefits.”
Technically, this is right. But Harris failed to emphasize the important part: “on average.” The gender wage gap isn’t caused by sexist discrimination. That’s a myth Democrats have wrapped in shiny rhetoric and taken for a stroll in economic speeches for decades. Multiple studies have shown that when women have the same education, work the same job, for the same hours, and perform it just as well, there’s basically no wage gap.
What actually exists is a “choice gap.” Women tend to earn an education, get a great job, marry, and take a break to raise children, then re-enter the workforce. Sometimes that break is short, sometimes it’s decades. Of course that woman doesn’t make as much as her male counterpart does, who has been working the entire time and now has more experience. Take that example and expand it across all women, and you get the average wage gap.
While it was nice, as a woman, to see positive comments about “lifting up” the women and children of our country, the insinuation here was directly related to the workforce. That’s not the only way to help women — many women choose to remain home and raise their children.
It’s also hard not to read this and wonder how advocating for abortion lifts up women and children, but I digress.
3. “And let’s speak an uncomfortable but honest truth with one another: racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia are real in this country. They are age-old forms of hate with new fuel. And we need to speak that truth so we can deal with it.”
Harris has a point, that America is a flawed nation full of flawed people. There is no doubt those forms of hatred all exist somewhere. However, as a whole, particularly compared to other countries, the U.S. is an example of tolerance and respect, particularly toward the people targeted by the discriminatory groups she listed.
While the country is increasingly tolerant of some groups, however, they are now attacking others. Harris conveniently left out the discrimination against some conservatives, Christians, and even white, Christian men.
In December, Harris used her position on the Senate Judiciary Committee to apply a religious test to a nominee. She balked at the nomination of Brian Buescher for the federal bench because he was a member of the Knights of Columbus. In the fall, Harris, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., spearheaded the onslaught of attacks on then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination process — despite scant evidence he had been a sexual perpetrator at any point in his life.
The majority of Harris’ speech was like this: A blend of half-truths packaged in a mini-Obama “hope and change” style. While I expect Republicans and Democrats to differ in their worldview, it’s always unfortunate to see any politician start a campaign with a trove full of misrepresentations — especially when their campaign motto is “Speak truth.”
Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.