The Elephant in the Room Is a Donkey (Reflections on Kamala Harris)
The donkey in the room (illustration by Lalo Alcaraz; source)
by Gaius Publius
Sam Seder once wisely said that during the Bush era, almost every Democrat and Democratic supporter looked like a solid progressive. It's only when Obama becomes president that you can see the difference between the Ezra Kleins of the world and the Elizabeth Warrens (my paraphrase).
But the recent Democratic primary widened those rifts — between the austerity-loving corporate enablers and the actual populists — and they may not close this time under the next Republican president. After all, in the face of real defeat — yes, I know, "she won the popular vote," but still, defeat pretty much up and down the line — the battle still rages in the Democratic Party. And it should.
What's this battle about? The same thing the primary battle was about — Will corporate-funded and corporate-loyal Democrats continue to lead the Party as they have since Clinton and the DLC took it over? Or will anti-corporate populists be in control? By "populists" I don't mean just "progressives" in that vague, feel-good sense. I mean true anti-corporatists, FDR Democrats, active and aggressive enemies of "rule by the rich."
In the primary, Sanders and the candidates he backed (and several he didn't) opposed corporate rule of the country, and were prepared to implement policies that removed Big Money's hand from the wheel of government. It's that simple. Does what people want rule government policy, or does Money stay in charge?
Their marriage to Big Money did institutional Democratic Party no favors — as a party. But it kept its pro-corporate leaders in power within the Party, which I strongly suspect was the primary goal. After all, how many of the Chuck Schumers and, yes, Nancy Pelosis of the world would ever back a person as much an enemy of their donors and the donor class as Bernie Sanders is? How many of them would prefer instead to "roll the dice with Clinton" ten times out of ten ... starting once more even tomorrow ... and risk losing electoral power once more even tomorrow ... just to maintain party power?
In other words, how many Democratic leaders now wish they had run the general election with Sanders in the lead? Not one. Just listen; you won't hear a single regret. There's no point in controlling the country, as they see it, if they don't control the party as well. Without control of the party, which of their donors would back them? With Sanders jailing Wall Street bankers, who would pay Chuck Schumer to stay in office? With Sanders in the White House, the current class of Democratic leadership would have to find new donors — actual humans perhaps, as Sanders did — or retire from public life on their previous gains and lobby for a living.
Kamala Harris, a Rising "Star in the Party"
Which brings us back to my central point. This time around, with Trump in office instead of Bush, will Seder be proven right again, or will the left-leaning public still distinguish the corporate-beholden from the populists? We're about to find out.
Democrats just elected former California Attorney General Kamala Harris to the U.S. Senate, and praise for her as a "progressive" has been voluminous.
For example, The Guardian, months before the election, wrote, "The attorney general is the odds-on favourite to become the next senator from California – and perhaps the nation’s next progressive star in the making." On her swearing-in day, the San Jose Mercury News was happy to quote Barbara Boxer saying that Harris "will continue the tradition of having a strong, progressive woman in this seat."
And the blurb for a recent CNN interview between Jake Tapper and Van Jones makes just two points: "Jones says the Democratic Party needs more progressive leaders" and "He adds that incoming Sen. Kamala Harris will be a star in the party."
It couldn't be more plain — Kamala Harris has been tapped (sorry) as one of the next progressive great ones. The Guardian even tabbed her "the 'female Obama'."
Kamala Harris, Steve Mnuchin & the California Mortgage Crisis
Thus it continued on the "praising Kamala Harris" front until recently. Then David Dayen, author of the well regarded book about fraud and the mortgage crisis Chain of Title, released this story at The Intercept:
Treasury Nominee Steve Mnuchin’s Bank Accused of “Widespread Misconduct” in Leaked MemoNote that his piece is primarily about Steve Mnuchin, who, as a Trump nominee, is a safe target of progressive ire. Of course, his company, OneWest, was also caught committing what looked to investigators like "over a thousand legal violation" in just one small subsection of OneWest's loans; that ire was well deserved in any case.
OneWest Bank, which Donald Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, ran from 2009 to 2015, repeatedly broke California’s foreclosure laws during that period, according to a previously undisclosed 2013 memo from top prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office.
The memo obtained by The Intercept alleges that OneWest rushed delinquent homeowners out of their homes by violating notice and waiting period statutes, illegally backdated key documents, and effectively gamed foreclosure auctions.
In the memo, the leaders of the state attorney general’s Consumer Law Section said they had “uncovered evidence suggestive of widespread misconduct” in a yearlong investigation. In a detailed 22-page request, they identified over a thousand legal violations in the small subsection of OneWest loans they were able to examine, and they recommended that Attorney General Kamala Harris file a civil enforcement action against the Pasadena-based bank. They even wrote up a sample legal complaint, seeking injunctive relief and millions of dollars in penalties.
So we find a piece punching a Trump nominee, and thus a safe (uncontentious) story in this anti-Trump ("resist") environment. What institutional Democrat could object?
But Dayen, true to his calling, reported the whole Mnuchin-OneWest story. Notice the name Kamala Harris above? Here's how Dayen's piece continues:
But Harris’s office, without any explanation, declined to prosecute the case.Is this still a "safe" story for the rest of the left-leaning media to follow? More from Dayen (my emphasis):
The consistent violations of California foreclosure processes outlined in the memo would indicate that Mnuchin’s bank didn’t merely act callously, but did so with blatant disregard for the law.To give you a sense of the full extent of OneWest's, and possible Mnuchin's, crimes, consider this:
According to the memo, OneWest also obstructed the investigation by ordering third parties to refuse to comply with state subpoenas.
Whether Mnuchin directed efforts to prevent scrutiny of his bank’s practices could be a focus of the confirmation hearings.
The memo also raises questions about then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who was sworn in as a U.S. senator on Tuesday, and who will soon have to vote on Mnuchin’s appointment.
Why did her office close the case, deciding not to “conduct a full investigation of a national bank’s misconduct and provide a public accounting of what happened,” as her own investigators had urged?
State and federal law enforcement have been severely criticized for failing to hold accountable those responsible for the financial crisis and its aftermath. The OneWest case provides another example, and this time, the failure to prosecute could help the nation’s next treasury secretary get confirmed.
Though the state investigators could not subpoena OneWest and were obstructed from obtaining more documents, they extrapolated that a full and unencumbered inquiry would yield at least 5,600 violations of foreclosure sale auctions, and turn up instances of backdating in nearly all of the 35,000 foreclosures OneWest had completed in California from 2009 to 2012.That a ton of criminal activity, if true. And based on the small percentage of documents investigators were not obstructed from obtaining, they considered this estimate of the extent of OneWest's total criminal activity in California between 2009 and 2012 a fair one.
And yet, as Dayen also notes, the Kamala Harris's failure to prosecute could help Mnuchin get confirmed as the next Treasury Secretary.
Why didn't Harris prosecute OneWest? The piece offers a number of admittedly speculative explanations, which you should read. Among them, though, is this:
Harris’s prodigious fundraising also raises questions about how attentive she is to the needs of campaign contributors. Prior to signing on with Trump, Mnuchin donated to members of both parties. He gave $2,000 to Harris’ Senate campaign in February 2016. Among the investors in OneWest Bank was major Democratic donor George Soros, who maxed out to Harris’ campaign in 2015.Oops.
The Elephant in the Room Is a Donkey
So who is Kamala Harris going to be in the Age of Trump, a "people's champion" in the Bernie Sanders mold, or someone just praised as one?
And more importantly, will that praise continue in light of Dayen's revelations? I suggest that a look at the treatment of Kamala Harris's history with OneWest and Mnuchin, especially in the lead-up to his confirmation, will provide an important and instructive test of who the mainstream Democrats and their supporting ecosystem plan to be.
Will "left"-leaning media, especially broadcast media, pick up on the Harris-Mnuchin backstory, thus calling into question her "progressive" credibility? Or will they stay silent on that part of the tale? (Looking at you, MSNBC and CNN.)
Will "left"-leaning opinion makers in the pundit-sphere fold what they learn from The Intercept's investigation into their public treatment of Harris? Or will they too stay silent, in effect confirming what Van Jones earlier proclaimed, that Harris is a rising "star" in the Party?
The elephant in the room is a donkey. What you're reading, and I'm writing, is not an piece about Kamala Harris. It's a piece about the Democratic Party and the so-called "left-leaning" media ecosystem. Observing their treatment of Kamala Harris going forward is one more way you, the reader, will know who and what the Party itself wants to be in the Age of Trump.
What is the Democratic Party and its ecosystem going to be, a "people's champion" in the Bernie Sanders mold, or something just praised as one?
If the latter, especially if Harris's failure to prosecute OneWest gets Steve Mnuchin confirmed, and they treat her as a star nonetheless (consider the consequences of that!), the Party will likely be out of power for a generation — or, as I always add, until climate chaos makes every other conversation moot.
The elephant in the room is a donkey. And out in the electorate, even if the pundits ignore it, people are watching. After all, that's how Trump got elected in the first place.