Can Democratic presidential nominees outrun their baggage? | The Tylt
As the Democratic field for president becomes more crowded every day, every life decision and each vote is coming under intense scrutiny. Most candidates have a long history in government and public service, which can sometimes be fraught with missteps and misjudgments. From Joe Biden's treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings to Kirsten Gillibrand's about-face on gun control, many worry the candidates will be tripped up by past actions. What do you think?
Can Democratic presidential nominees outrun their baggage?
Joe Biden was the chairman of the Judiciary Committee during Clarence Thomas' infamous Supreme Court confirmation hearings and refused to allow for a delay in his confirmation vote. He failed to protect Anita Hill from vitriolic questioning and refused to give credence to FBI investigations into Thomas' behavior.
Patti Solis Doyle, Biden's campaign chief of staff in 2008, told Politico in September 2018 that while she considers him one of the strongest contenders in the field, his conduct during the Anita Hill hearings could damage his chances.
“If Anita Hill believes she’s owed an apology, then she’s owed an apology, without question. And he should give one,” Solis Doyle said. “Certainly, Joe Biden did not do the harassing. Joe Biden ended up voting against Clarence Thomas. But what was done to Anita Hill in those hearings … it was unseemly. And as chair of the Judiciary back then, he probably should have taken a bigger role in making Anita Hill feel safe and comfortable, and clearly, she did not feel that way.”
Biden has said he stands by the way he conducted the hearings, claiming there was no way he could have prevented members of the committee from asking inappropriate questions. However, he has expressed regret for the way Hill was treated. Per Vox:
“Anita Hill was vilified when she came forward by a lot of my colleagues, character assassination. I wish I could’ve done more to prevent those questions, the way they asked them,” he told NBC. “It takes enormous courage for a woman to come forward.”
He still tops many lists for the most promising presidential candidate.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced her intention to run for president on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert." Gillibrand has branded herself a liberal crusader during her time in the Senate, taking on issues like sexual assault in the military and on college campuses.
However, some have expressed concerns about Gillibrand's rapidly changing political views. Before inheriting Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, Gillibrand represented a rural district in upstate New York. While in this position, she was much more politically moderate, particularly on gun control. Per the Washington Post:
Gillibrand overhauled her political identity during this period, abandoning the conservative positions that made her popular upstate and embracing or even moving further left than the liberal consensus on guns, immigration, Wall Street and same-sex marriage. As the Democratic Party itself moved left, she staked out positions popular with the party’s swelling base of liberals, a posture most evident when she called for abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She has voted against President Trump’s agenda more than any other senator.
Gillibrand has said her changing opinions were based not on political calculation but on exposure to new people and issues. Per Newsday:
"I recognized that my focus on the concerns of my upstate district were not enough, I needed to focus on the concerns of the whole state," she said on CBS. "I met with families who were being torn apart because of policies that I did not have enough compassion and empathy for. So I recognized I was wrong."
California Sen. Kamala Harris has also thrown her hat into the presidential ring, running as a progressive liberal candidate. But many are worried she is much more conservative than she has been portrayed.
Before serving in the Senate, Harris was the attorney general for California, where she had a reputation for running a somewhat hardline law-and-order office. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Lara Bazelon, the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, noted Harris had frequently fought to maintain conservative criminal justice policies and uphold potentially wrongful convictions.
Consider her record as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011. Ms. Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” her work and stealing drugs from the lab. After a memo surfaced showing that Ms. Harris’s deputies knew about the technician’s wrongdoing and recent conviction, but failed to alert defense lawyers, a judge condemned Ms. Harris’s indifference to the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.
Harris' campaign disputes these claims, saying they are taken out of context and imply that Harris had control over the actions of every single prosecutor in the state's office. Lily Adams, Harris' spokesperson, told CNN:
"In 2004, when most prosecutors were using a tough on crime approach, Senator Harris was starting Back on Track in 2004 which diverted young people charged with first time drug offenses into apprenticeship and training programs instead of decades long prison sentences. When she was Attorney General, she brought accountability to the system with the first statewide training on implicit bias and procedural justice in the country, body cameras to the agents at DOJ, launched multiple pattern and practice investigations and demanded data on in-custody deaths and police shooting be made available to the public."