Kamala Harris, a liberal icon

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 26 2020
Columns Kamala Harris, a liberal icon

By R.S. Karunaratne

The 2020 United States Presidential Election is scheduled to be held on Tuesday, 3 November 2020. President Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination without any serious opposition. Former Vice President Joe Biden secured the Democratic nomination. Biden has announced that his running mate would be Kamala Harris, making her the first African-American, the first Indian-American, and the first Asian-American to be elected as the Vice President. Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan, Convenor – Cross Cultural Understanding Initiative in an interview with the Ceylon Today said if elected Kamala Harris would be the first South Asian woman to occupy the august office in the United States. 

If you ask anyone who had attended Kamala Devi Harris’s Election meetings in the United States, they will probably tell you about the first time they saw her standing high above the crowds and waving to them. 

Her image exemplifies what she means to the United States, a symbol of hope to the next generation, the living embodiment of the idea that it truly does get better day by day. 

Through the years, Kamala Harris, a coloured woman, has stood tall against immense prejudices prevalent in the United States. With her larger than life courage, waving to the crowds, confidence radiating from her face, this is one of the defining images of the 2020 United States Presidential Election scene.

Kamala is showing the world the best of American ideals: hard work, strength, and courage. Some of her critics are taken aback by her boldness and novel ideas. But her supporters are an inspired group. Kamala Harris is an unusual politician who has the capacity to pay attention to many factors when working towards a solution.

COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19  pandemic poor and low-income Americans have become poorer. Kamala Harris knows that democracy cannot endure the extreme inequality. She also knows that poor and low-income people of every colour and creed can revive the ebbing American economy when they rise up and build a just society that will make all Americans happy. This is why she is fighting to give them a voice. Her optimism is more necessary now than ever. 

According to Ayanna Pressley, a Congress woman, Kamala Harris is making history. She says, “Kamala Harris has always been a trailblazer. She broke barriers in California, made history in the United States Senate, and now she is the first coloured woman and the first Indian-American to be nominated for Vice President by a major political party.”

Kamala’s nomination is the realisation of a dream that so many have struggled for so long. She was raised by her mother Shyamala Gopalan, a Tamil Brahmin woman from Mylapore, Chennai, India. She was a strong woman rooted in her community activities. Her life and career have been defined by a fierce commitment to public service and an abiding belief in the Government as a force for prosperity. Kamala has passion, tenacity, and dedication to face the overlapping crises of public health, economic inequality and racism.


Kamala’s opponents have accused her of being a leftist who is sympathetic to leftist plans to dramatically expand the Government and weaken businesses. The charge is wide off the mark. She has rejected the utopian ideas of the left. Her proposals are reasonable. She wants the Government to deal with genuine problems facing the country, including shoddy infrastructure climate change and the travails of business. Long-term problems have festered without proper attention. She believes that these problems could be solved simply by being a competent administrator who believes in institutions heeding advice and being aware of the outcome.Such qualities are very much needed for a leader who is aspiring to be the Vice President of the United States.

Some leaders when they assume office have an economic vision for transforming the country and to create wealth. If both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the presidential election, they will confront extraordinary circumstances that will put a huge amount of pressure on them. Joe Biden will lead a party that has indeed shifted more to the Left and that has a more radical wing. While not being dominant it remains influential. Faced with this internal pressure group, Biden could use Kamala Harris to moderate it. As a result, he could avoid problems cropping up in his party, especially from the Left leaning democrats. 

Many critics of Kamala Harris believe that she symbolises leftist ideas in the Democratic Party. Whether it is true or not, symbolism forms a large and important part of political activity. It supports Governments, selects leaders, and defines the terms of debate. Symbols can be used politically to shape attitudes, build support, persuade action, or in one widely accepted definition of political power, to help ‘A’ get ‘B’ to do what ‘A’ wanted done.

Political conflict

If symbolism is central to politics, it is clearly also central to the office of president as we understand it. The central battle in a political conflict is often the struggle over whose symbolic definition of a situation will prevail. This may be one of the reasons why Kamala Harris is chosen by Biden to run for the Vice Presidency.

Kamala Devi Harris was born in Oakland, California on 20 October 1964.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan was a breast cancer scientist who emigrated from Chennai in 1960 to pursue a Doctorate in Endocrinology at UC Berkeley. Her father, Donald J. Harris, is a Stanford University Emeritus Professor of Economics. He emigrated from British Jamaica to the United States in 1961 to pursue his graduate studies in economics at UC Berkeley. Kamala Harris was raised in Berkeley, California, along with her younger sister Maya. Berkeley had a significant black population.

In her formative years, Kamala attended a black Baptist church and also a Hindu temple when she visited her mother’s family in Chennai. As a result she knows a little bit of Tamil. Her parents were divorced when she was seven. She used to visit her father living in Palo Alto on weekends. However, their neghbours’ children were not allowed to play with them as they were black. 

When she was 12, Kamala and her sister Maya moved with their mother to Montreal, Canada where their mother had accepted a research position at a Jewish General Hospital. She also continued to teach at Macgill University. Kamal attended Westmount High School in Quebec and graduated in 1981. Thereafter she moved to Howard University in Washington DC. Kamala returned to California to study law at the University of California. She earned a doctorate in 1989 and passed the Bar Examination in June 1990.

Kamala fondly remembers her grandfather Gopalan and the long walks she used to take with him on Marina beach. She is married to attorney Douglas Emhoff and they have two stepchildren. Her niece Meena is the founder of the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign. Kamala’s chief-of-staff Rohini is a Sri Lankan origin girl born in the United States. Kamala has written two non-fiction books and one children’s book. 

By R.S. Karunaratne | Published: 2:00 AM Oct 26 2020

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