Kamala Harris's Truth

Lessons from a historic and flailing candidacy.

Senator Kamala Harris speaks at her alma mater Howard University. (Getty Images)

Sarah Thankam Mathews


October 21, 2019

What strikes me as I watch Kamala Devi Harris take an Iowa City stage in April, to Mary J.’s strut-friendly “Work That,” is how well she walks the knife of politicking-while-female. A veteran prosecutor, the junior Senator from California found a reliable virality through grilling a series of Trump appointees with all the aplomb of a Nashville pitmaster. To watch William Barr stutter on video as she interrogates him, all but catching him in the lie that became Ukrainegate, is a thing of beauty. 

“Let’s speak truth,” Harris tells the Iowa crowd hanging on to her every word, and sonorously catalogs the ills of the political moment under Trumpism. How did a candidate who was preemptively crowned the likely Democratic frontrunner last year, who was polling in double digits at the time I listened to her speak in Iowa, move to fighting for air in the current moment? What lessons can be gleaned from her rise and fall?   

Harris is a masterclass in calibrating the steely assertion of power that we — a dumb regressive electorate with mommy and daddy issues galore — clock as male. She does this in part by cannily flexing femininity. On the campaign trail, she is warm, controlled, radiant with confidence, smart as hell. At times her demeanor is merry, almost flirtatious.