No one much likes Kamala Harris and she’s a classic example of a presidential candidate picking someone no one would prefer over him. Here favorable numbers with the public are incredibly underwater— negative 16.8%. That equates to 36.7% favorable and 53.5% unfavorable. Biden and Trump have slightly higher unfavorables, but both have higher favorable numbers to help narrow their spreads. She doesn’t because… she hasn’t made a good impression on the voters. She is largely seen as nothing but an identity politics hack. During the 2020 primary her miserable campaign “led many to wonder whether the candidate, who had climbed the political ladder in California's deeply Democratic circles, was really fit for a national campaign.” She wound up on the ticket because she’s a woman and somewhat Black. Her problem is that since becoming VP, she “has failed to find a signature issue or define herself in any way. The biggest headlines she has garnered come from a series of silly gaffes and awkward interviews, and from turmoil among her staff.”
But ugly, virulent Republican Party racism— repackaged by Ron DeSantis with homophobia and misogyny as “anti-woke”— is giving her a political lease on life. An NBC News headline on Friday: Kamala Harris accuses Florida officials of trying to ‘replace history with lies” through new curriculum. She found her issue— and it’s a good one. Speaking in Jacksonville— Florida’s biggest city and newly blue— she “rebuked the Florida Board of Education’s new standards for how Black history will be taught in schools, calling it an effort by extremist leaders to spread propaganda.” Thanks, Meatball Ron!
She accused DeSantis’ hand-picked board of education of indoctrinating children with the belief that slaves benefitted from slavery because they learned skills. This is nothing new; it’s part of being a certain type of Southerner, part of their hideous “heritage” that wasn’t obliterated by the Civil War or Reconstruction. Their sick justifications for slavery never went away, just underground, waiting for a Ron DeSantis to come along to make it “respectable” (again).
Aside from the economic justification for slavery— that enslaved labor was a vital workforce for large plantations, which produced lucrative cash crops like cotton, tobacco, and sugar— beneath that excuse was the Southerners’ near-universal belief in racial superiority. Pro-slavery advocates, often white slaveowners, asserted that Africans and people of African descent were inherently inferior and needed white supervision and control. This view perpetuated the notion that slavery was a means of providing a ‘civilizing influence’ and protecting enslaved individuals from perceived savagery. You, know, like teaching them “skills” the way DeSantis wants it taught. Pro-slavery forces— backed by their compliant faith establishment— argued that slavery was essential to maintaining social order and stability. They contended that without slavery, there would be chaos and upheaval, leading to a negative impact on society as a whole and a paternalistic attitude was often employed by slaveowners to justify their "benevolent" treatment of enslaved people. They argued that they provided care, shelter, and religious instruction, creating a narrative that they were protecting and providing for their enslaved laborers. This is exactly the tradition DeSantis coming from, more so that a Bull Connor tradition, even iff they amount to the same thing.
After Republicans allowed Reconstruction to flop— a deal between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden over who won the election of 1876— Southern states, including Florida, were allowed to enact Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation and denied African Americans their civil rights. These laws were justified by claims of "separate but equal" facilities and were intended to maintain white supremacy and control over African Americans. In return for not contesting Hayes’ election, federal troops were removed from the South, ending federal intervention to protect former enslaved people in the region.
I wonder how DeSantis will have Florida children study the Compromise of 1877, which marked the end of Reconstruction. With the withdrawal of federal troops from the South, Southern Democrats— today’s Republicans— regained political control, leading to the establishment of "Redeemer" governments that sought to roll back the reforms and protections granted to African Americans during Reconstruction. The end of Reconstruction ushered in a century-long era of strict racial segregation, disenfranchisement of African American voters, and the enforcement of Jim Crow laws, which perpetuated racial discrimination and inequality in the South. The Compromise of 1877 had a profound impact on the course of American history and the struggle for civil rights and equality and without it there never would have been politicians like Theodore Bilbo, Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, George Wallace, David Duke… And in Florida, there were racist characters like Governors Napoleon Broward, Sidney Johnston Catts, Park Trammell, Millard Caldwell, Fuller Warren, Claude Kirk and Ronald Dion DeSantis.
With the end of Reconstruction, policymakers implemented segregationist policies in education, housing, and public facilities— a system of institutionalized racism. Throughout the 20th century, politicians implemented voter suppression tactics, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, to disenfranchise Black voters. In the 1960s when I was in school, conservative politicians used "law and order" rhetoric to advocate for harsher criminal “justice” policies, which disproportionately affected minority communities, leading to mass incarceration. From the end of Reconstruction right through to the election of DeSantis, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Greg Abbott, Bill Lee, Kay Ivey, Kevin Stitt, Tate Reeves and Brian Kemp, conservative politicians opposed and tried to weaken civil rights legislation, arguing that it infringed on states' rights or that it was unnecessary because racial equality had already been achieved. These politicians employ coded language— like anti-woke— and "dog-whistle" politics, which use subtle, racially charged language to appeal to certain voter sentiments without explicitly mentioning race. Voter ID laws and gerrymandering are among their tools today.
Harris on Friday: “They want to replace history with lies. These extremist, so-called leaders should model what we know to be the correct and right approach if we really are invested in the well being of our children. Instead, they dare to push propaganda to our children. This is the United States of America. We're not supposed to do that… How is it that anyone could suggest that in the midst of these atrocities that there was any benefit to being subjected to this level of dehumanization?”
DeSantis’ carefully crafted dog-whistle racism gave her the chance to shine— and she’s taking it.
Recounting her own schooling, the vice president said she was the product of a public school system where teachers provided the "full expanse of information," and encouraged students to "then reach their own conclusions and exercise critical thought in a way that was directly intended to nurture their leadership."
"It is because of that approach that I stand before you as vice president of the United States," she said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who earlier this year blocked an advanced placement African American studies course from being taught to high schoolers in his state, blasted Harris' visit in a statement on Twitter.
"Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida’s educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children," the GOP presidential candidate tweeted. "Florida stands in their way and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies."
Speaking with reporters later Friday, DeSantis appeared to try and distance himself from the curriculum changes while also defending the new standards.
Asked about the Board of Education's wording in its guidance for teaching about slavery, DeSantis said, "I didn't do it and I wasn't involved in it."
"But I think— I think what they’re doing is, I think that they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into, into doing things later in life," he continued, referring to enslaved people. "These were scholars who put that together. It was not anything that was done politically."
William Allen and Frances Presley Rice, who are members of Florida’s African American History Standards Workgroup, defended the standards in a statement earlier this week, calling them “rigorous and comprehensive,” and said the update that has drawn intense criticism showed “that some slaves developed highly specialized trades from which they benefitted.”
Harris on Friday urged Americans to face rather than forget history.
“Our history as a nation is born out of tragedy and triumph. That’s who we are. Part of that is what gives us our grit,” she said.
“So let’s reject the notion that we would deny all of this in terms of our history. Let us not be seduced into believing that somehow we will be better if we forget it. We will be better if we remember.”
Before delivering her remarks, Harris said she met with local leaders, including Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, two Democrats from the state Legislature, civil rights lawyer Ben Crump and Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP.
In May, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for the Florida, calling the state “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”
The group also rebuked the updated Black history curriculum, emphasizing the importance of students learning “that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history.”
As for DeSantis having no involvement in it, “The new standards come as DeSantis… escalates his war on so-called ‘woke’ education, which has included book bans, the rejection of an Advanced Placement course on African American studies, and the passage of the Stop WOKE Act, which prohibits the instruction of material that could make someone feel ‘guilt, anguish or any form of psychological stress.’ His concern for the possible ‘anguish’ of Florida students does not seem to extend to Black students, who could be forced to learn about the supposed ‘benefit’ of slavery, nor does it seem to extend to LGBTQ kids and their families, who have also been targeted in his battle… Florida Education Association Andrew Spar said ‘DeSantis is pursuing a political agenda guaranteed to set good people against one another, and in the process he’s cheating our kids. They deserve the full truth of American history, the good and the bad.’”
I want to be in the room when Meatball Ron tells his wealthy Jewish campaign contributors-- like Jeffrey Yass ($2.5 million), Morris Fancbaum, Joseph Brandmeyer, Kristen Hertel-- that without the benevolent slavery down in Egypt, Jews would never have learned how to make matzo or become stone masons.