Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Before Trump, two avenues led to the presidency of the United States: one was through demonstrated intellectual capacity i.e. having ‘the smarts’ to read the constantly changing currents that swirl around high office and divert them to your own advantage, and the second is the capacity to handle an enormously heavy, and challenging, work load. (Trump found a third way which I don’t propose to discuss here).
Kamala Harris is an example of a woman with a very ordinary university degree who found her way through the toughest of career paths to become the first black, female vice-president. Harris’s career began in a humble District Attorney’s office presided over by an odd individual called Terence Hallinan. This was in 1998. Throughout Harris’s career she would work with, or have dealings, with ‘odd’ people. Hallinan graduated in law but was refused a license by the California State Bar. It took a judgment of the California Supreme Court to overturn the State Bar’s ruling. Hallinan’s practice was made up of drug-takers, leftists, and a serial murderer. Under Hallinan, the office was chaotic, and Harris found her initiation into a career in prosecuting offenders in a crazy environment where hard work was her salvation.
Promoted to District Attorney in 2004, Harris found making her mark easy, but for uncomfortable reasons. She had been elected on a platform that included never seeking the death penalty. When a police officer was murdered Harris stuck to her principles, and found the powerful police union inimical to her stand. This is typical of the picture Morain gives us, that of a woman who is highly principled and courageous in adhering to her beliefs. However, Morain also makes much of Harris’s cleverness in declining to become involved in issues likely to become controversial. If this is true, one wonders about such a woman when she wears the shoes of successor to the leading executive of the nation.
Despite Harris’s reputation as a fearsome debater and tough prosecutor, Morain yet brings out a soft side. If her raiment is that of an eagle, her soft underbelly contains a heart that knows compassion. Her forsaking the busy campaign trail to be at the death bed of one of her staff, and her taking time out to comfort an unhappy child are examples of her love for her people.
“There was no camera. There was no press. Nobody knew. She was very human in that moment and wanted Rose to feel safe.”
Lehane could see that Harris was keeping her entourage waiting. Staffers were looking impatient. They had other events to attend.
“It was a very human moment for someone who didn’t have a lot of time to be human,” Lehane said (163).
Morain reveals the unqualified family support that Harris has always enjoyed. We read about her formidable mother and the husband who met his bride when both were aged forty-nine. We gain an additional insight into her character when she used the power of the District Attorney’s office to hunt down child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children. We applaud Harris’s successful attempts to close down educational institutions that were deceiving students into going into debt in order to pay their exorbitant fees.
This review does no more than pay lip service to the mountain of information that Morain includes in his book. His research reveals Kamala Harris as a driven individual who got things done. Although there are documented occasions when she paused rather than acted, these may give rise to criticism. Equally well they could be read as a human being simply being human.
by Dan Morain
Simon & Schuster
$32.99; 272 pp