While I was watching MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell toss batting-practice questions at Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris Tuesday night and listening from the middle of a cheering audience, it was easy for me to get caught up in the feeling. Harris, doing a live town hall from Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, brought a great smile, a compelling back story and a record of success.
She is a U.S. senator and a former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney who was highly regarded in both posts. She is the daughter of an Indian immigrant who raised two kids alone and worked as a scientist.
When Harris lambasted the states that all but ban abortion but never supported proper sex education, access to contraception or a federal expansion of Medicaid, she drew cheers. When she said, “We’ve got a president who is not trying to make America great, he’s trying to make America hate, and we’ve got to get rid of him,” the roar from this very liberal audience in a conservative stronghold was primal.
But when Harris promised to spend trillions of dollars, it felt like she was adopting the worst, most caricatured version of liberalism and following the GOP’s lead.
The biggest thing President Donald Trump does for Republicans, or to them, is let them really be themselves and revel in it. For decades, many in the GOP denied and hid so many of their goals: slashing taxes on the rich no matter what it did to the deficit, slashing regulations on business no matter what it did to the environment, slashing education funding no matter what it did to students, slashing immigration no matter what it did to the soul of our nation, slashing voting and electoral opportunities for minorities no matter what it did to our communities.
Trump has given Republicans the achievements liberals always accused them of wanting. In return, rather than claiming the sane center in response, Harris promises Democrats the nation conservatives always accused them of wanting.
Harris wants Medicare for all, and her plan promises no more worries about premiums or out-of-pocket costs. But Medicare recipients pay both. Harris favors free community college for all and “debt-free four-year public college for all,” but has identified no funding. Harris wants every public school teacher to get an average raise of $13,500 a year, at a cost of $315 billion over 10 years. Craziest of all, Harris wants to give every family earning less than $100,000 a year a $500 per month tax credit. She says she’ll pay for it by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for big corporations and the “1 percent,” but the most that could raise is $150 billion a year, and paying the 90 million American families who would be eligible would cost $540 billion annually.
The kind of social programs favored by nations like Sweden and Denmark can be paid for if, like those nations, you levy sky-high taxes on all workers. Harris foolishly advocates the benefits but not the broad-based taxes.
The nation Trump and the GOP have given us is, in many ways, mean-spirited, shortsighted, bigoted, destructive and ultimately, disastrous. The nation Harris promises is kind, life-affirming, short-sighted, destructive and ultimately, disastrous. I’d pick her kind vision over his hateful one in a second, but it’s still a poor option. And I have to wonder, considering these extremes, how so many in both parties adopted the worst possible versions of their creeds.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.