Kamala Harris Described What a Healthy Party Looks Like

In the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, one of the things that frustrated me the most was the assumption that, when Democratic candidates proposed different strategies for reaching common goals, it indicated an inevitable civil war within the party. In other words, the narrative about “Democrats in disarray” was trotted out at every turn. Here’s what I wrote about that on one such occasion:

It is true that Ocasio-Cortez ran on medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee, and criminal justice reform. Those are all things that will be discussed among Democrats when/if they take back control of Congress. As I’ve suggested for a while now, the Democratic Party is blessed with a plethora of ideas for how to reach their shared goals around equal opportunity for all. That is what diversity looks like and no one should mistake it for a Democratic civil war.

It is clear that, as Democratic candidates announce their intentions to run in the 2020 presidential race, we’re going to be exposed to the same kind of nonsense about a splintering of the Democratic Party. We know it will come from Republicans. But the media seems to love the narrative, and there are those on the left who promote the vision of a divided party because it serves their ideological interests.

Senator Kamala Harris is currently on tour promoting her new book, while preparing to make an announcement regarding her intentions to run in 2020. On Tuesday she appeared on The View and was fed a line from Megan McCain about how the policies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the “socialist left” could splinter the party. Every Democratic candidate should take note of her answer.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is challenging the status quo. I think that is fantastic. I used to teach…and the thing that I always loved about teaching was that it requires you to defend the premise. And it requires you to re-examine the premise and question, “is it still relevant, does it have impact, does it have meaning?”

I think that she is introducing bold ideas that should be discussed. I think that’s good for the party and I, frankly, think it’s good for the country. Let’s look at the bold ideas, and I’m eager that we have those discussions. When we are able to defend the status quo, then do it. If there’s no merit to that, then let’s explore new ideas.

You might want to stay tuned for how Harris responded to a question about Rashida Tlaib’s characterization of Donald Trump. It was equally well-said. But my first reaction to the quote above was to say that she is describing exactly the kind of party I’d like to belong to. I doubt that I’m alone in that.

A healthy political party is one that is clear about its major goals and, when it comes to strategies to meet them, is prepared to defend the status quo where it is working. Where it is not, a healthy party is open to new ideas and welcomes a discussion that sorts them into those that have merit and those that don’t. It is only ideologues who resist that kind of process because their interest is in control rather than outcomes.

So the next time someone suggests that Democrats have a problem because they are divided on something like how to achieve universal access to health care, take a page from Sen. Harris and respond with: “Isn’t that great! Democrats are clearly the party of ideas and we’re having a vigorous discussion about that right now.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .