David Halberstam’s classic The Best and the Brightest remains a fascinating study of hubristic presidential ambitions. However, its underlying thesis — “the problem was that we’re not winning [the Vietnam War as opposed to being wrong for prosecuting it in the first place],” as Noam Chomsky once wrote — was outrageously false.
If we’re to believe Halberstam, despite ascending the heights of power in the Senate, Lyndon B. Johnson accidentally became president, accidentally prosecuted a war he should have avoided like the plague, and therefore accidentally destroyed a domestic agenda intended to revitalize and expand upon the New Deal so to create a Great Society for all Americans. He had planned for his entire career to reach the status of an FDR but ended it as one of the century’s most reviled presidents, a man who sought to feed impoverished kids but instead was taunted mercilessly for immolating Vietnamese youths (and adults) with napalm and carpet bombings.
It is with this in the background we contemplate the likelihood of Vice President Kamala Harris replacing President Joe Biden either after the midterm elections or on the 2024 ticket. As Ken wrote in a column on Friday, it is impossible not to notice the cognitive decline of the current Commander-in-Chief, one of the greatest political chessmen of the neoliberal epoch but now reduced to a yammering incoherence, mixed with bouts of lucidity, that multiple observers find reminiscent of dementia.
If Harris succeeds Biden, due to his death or early retirement, the Democratic Party and its media courtiers would execute a playbook strategy resembling the 1964 justification for ground troop deployment in Vietnam, formulated by the same players, and which was only shattered in 1971 when the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg.
What are the prospects should Harris ascend to the highest office? Miserable at best and terrifying at worst (the far likelier outcome). So here you go with a short Listicle about the catastrophe of a Kamala Harris presidency, should this Doomsday scenario come to pass.
- It’s looking certain that the Republican Party will be unable to disentangle itself from Donald Trump, with the vile, spineless Senator Lindsey Graham illustrating this both most obviously and most recently. Even if former President Trump doesn’t run for a second term in 2024, that doesn’t preclude the nasty narcissistic white nationalist former Reality TV star from becoming a party éminence grise-cum-kingmaker. Just imagine him running the Republican primaries like a new season of The Apprentice, with each candidate groveling for his blessing and Trump using his signature line — “You’re fired!” — when dispatching an aspirant from the race. With Trump being the nominee or the main powerbroker, we’d witness the most shameless, open nativism since he promoted the Obama Birther conspiracy theory, combined with ruthless misogynoir aimed against a woman whose record is dreadful enough without her being attacked on racist and sexist grounds.
- Her domestic agenda would be a catastrophe. As David Sirota and Walter Bragman pointed out in Jacobin, then-Senator Harris probably let the arch-loon Amy Coney Barrett ascend to the Supreme Court because the jurist had written legal opinions favorable to Harris’s Silicon Valley gig economy donors. While Biden offers pithy platitudes to the Alabama Amazon union organizers, Harris would probably act in quite a more ruthless fashion against them and anyone else trying to unionize tech industry workers.
- Kamala is a Cop. Sure, that’s a slogan, but it’s also an accurate one. Harris is a former prosecutor with the worst possible instincts when it comes to criminal justice. Even when she’s at her best on the topic, she’s terrible. The US is already the world’s worst carceral nation. In a best case scenario, she doesn’t make things significantly worse. In a worst case scenario…You know what? Let’s not even go there.
- Kamala’s most incisive critic on the campaign trail was the otherwise-toxic Tulsi Gabbard. [Note: Click on that link, it’s a hilarious article, written by Washington Babylon‘s Senior Contributing Writer Sydney Leathers, about one of the 2019 Democratic presidential candidates’ debates. Sample: “Tulsi Gabbard is a robot sent here with one mission: to destroy Kamala Harris. She really didn’t miss an opportunity to drag her through the dirt, and since dragging Kamala through the dirt is one of my favorite hobbies, I was thrilled.“] So if Kamala becomes president again Tulsi would be back on the national stage too, which is a double edged sword. Tulsi should disappear forever; on the other hand, watching her drag Kamala is fun. But here’s why Tulsi’s return would be awful on balance: it would mean the country would have to endure endless rapturous prose about her from the lamentable and Tulsi-besotted Michael Tracey, who loves her with all the passion Ken once had for Farrah Fawcett when he was a wee lad.
- This is a short one. Just read this Hollywood Reporter article, and have a barf bag handy. [Note: Ken likes Reese Witherspoon, if for Election and not much else, while Andrew shamelessly worships Pleasantville, and Kerry Washington is OK, but it’s a pretty rancid list otherwise.]
- This all supposes that Harris has a snowball’s chance in Hell of winning a general election, a dubious assertion given her laughable performance in the 2020 Democratic primaries. Her modus operandi (as well as the current Democratic Party’s) is the same self-righteous narcissism of Halberstam’s titular Best and Brightest, among them McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Robert McNamara: smug technocrats looking down their nose at the ignorant voters.
- There’s plenty of negative commentary to be made regarding Barack Obama’s tenure in the Oval Office but it is impossible to deny that his charisma, photogenic ability and catchy slogans inspired and mobilized millions of voters in 2008. Does Harris exude even a whiff of this? As was the case with LBJ, it is impossible to underestimate the ineptitude and politically suicidal tendencies of the Democratic Party (cf. Clinton, Hillary). But if Harris does indeed become president, via Biden stepping down early or by winning at the ballot box in 2024, it could set the stage for a truly dangerous GOP president to succeed her — a more coherent, calculating, competent, and capable Donald Trump, thereby transforming the US into a continent-spanning Thunderdome. LBJ accidentally gave us Nixon. Obama accidentally gave us Trump. Harris could accidentally give us Oberster SA-Führer Tom Cotton.
Stay tuned as we’ll be covering Harris quite a bit in the days, months and years ahead.