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My wife and I watched the first two Democratic Party debates June 26-27 because we didn’t know much about most of the Democratic candidates for president and wanted to see what kind of choices we’d have on primary day (nearly a year away). Although we had trouble keeping up with the names and faces of 20 candidates, we did come away with some impressions, some of which were favorable to the candidates.
Watching what most analysts proclaimed the most impressive discussion of the entire debate and the turning point of the evening, I told my wife, “The Republicans have to be loving this.”
The incident was Sen. Kamala Harris’ angry takedown of Joe Biden, until that moment the leading Democratic candidate, according to polls. Until she tore into Biden, I had been dreaming of what a Harris-Trump presidential debate might look like in the general election campaign. Harris had displayed, in both the debate and in the Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, her persuasive, effective debating skills that she had developed and practiced as a prosecuting attorney and California attorney general.
But I never expected her to aim her attack on Biden, the former vice president who served 26 years in the U.S. Senate. Harris’ attack was obviously planned and practiced. She came to the edge of calling Biden a closet racist without actually saying that. She attacked Biden for having said he worked with Democratic segregationists to get good things done in the Senate. As a senator, Harris knows you don’t get things done in the upper chamber unless you have a three-fifths majority, and that often means corralling a few senators with contrary views but decades of longevity and considerable legislative power. In a recent speech, Biden had acknowledged that and bragged of his effectiveness, because of his abilities, in getting important civil rights legislation passed.
Harris added to that attack with another angle, a sort of flanking movement against Biden, saying he failed to support busing as a means of forcing racial integration in schools. Biden said he only opposed the U.S. Department of Justice’s demand, contrary to local feelings, that children should be bused away from their neighborhood schools to achieve an arbitrary racial balance.
Proving her attack on Biden was planned and practiced, Harris said she was one of those children who were bused — two decades after Brown v. Board of Education — and her campaign conveniently posted a photo of cute little Kamala on her way to first grade.
The Harris campaign failed to acknowledge at the time that Harris had supported just the sort of busing that Biden defended — busing that had the support of local elected officials and families — but not Washington-ordered, disruptive busing.
Perhaps Harris is too young to remember how traumatic “forced busing” solutions were. In South Boston, a thousand miles from the segregationist states of the Old South, violent riots broke out as opponents opposed busing children to distant schools in other neighborhoods. The federal government, frustrated by local opposition, ordered more and more desegregation solutions built on putting small children on school buses for hours each day. The city of Richmond, Virginia, was told it would have to bus children to and from neighboring suburban municipalities, obliterating boundaries established by the state constitution.
After recognizing the futility of ordering private citizens to send children to a school designated by bureaucrats in distant Washington, D.C., federal officials backed off the oppressive “fall in line or else” approach, and the busing controversy faded away. Some cities, such as Charlotte, embraced a form of busing (with various options for families).
In the 1990s, after several efforts to create a mandated racial balance in schools, the Wilson County Board of Education abandoned its paired-school (court mandated) desegregation plan in favor of a neighborhood school plan. African American members of the Board of Education voted with the majority for neighborhood schools, ending cross-town busing.
The worst thing loyal Democrats can do in the 2020 presidential election is sabotage their leading candidates with misleading criticism of what they did or didn’t do a generation or more ago. Don’t create a “circular firing squad” to choose the party’s nominee.
Hal Tarleton is a former editor of The Wilson Daily Times. Contact him at email@example.com.