When Ellen DeGeneres asked Kamala Harris on Thursday whether or not she was going to run for president in 2020, the California Democrat pretended as though the idea of running for national office had never, ever occurred to her before that exact moment.
“Right now, we are in the early months of 2018,” Harris told DeGeneres, adding that she is laser focused on the uncertain fate of DACA recipients and trying to move an assault weapons ban forward in the Senate.
“These are immediate needs,” Harris said. “These are things I’m focused on right now.”
That response is, of course, totally ridiculous.
There’s roughly a 100% chance that Harris has thought about running for president. And that people aligned with her may have even begun reaching out to early primary and caucus states to see just how fertile the ground might be.
Harris is far from alone in twisting herself into a pretzel to avoid looking as though she might potentially be interested in running for president in two years’ time. Almost everyone this side of John Delaney plays ultra-coy when asked about whether they are interested in running for president.
But I don’t even blame the politicians for this display of idiocy!
The problem here is the way we, the political/media establishment, treat politicians: Like robots, not people.
At some point in the past – if I could “Back to the Future” to this moment I would – conventional wisdom was established that said that any politician who says they might be interested in another office at some point in the future was some sort of craven empty vessel.
How could they think of anything but what they are doing right this second? How dare they??? All they care about is their next job, not the job they have!!!
Take this attitude and apply it to your own life. You, likely, go to work. Hopefully you like it. Do you think you are an overly ambitious ladder-climber if you think about what other jobs you might be interested in doing down the line? How about if you know there will be a job opening in your company in 18 months’ time and your colleagues are encouraging you to consider it? Would you tell them you have never considered it and are too focused on what you are doing to consider it? Or, if you did consider it, would that be some sort of deeply disloyal act that showed you weren’t interested in your current job?
Right. You get the idea.
Seen through that lens, Harris would be absolutely crazy not to have given any thought to whether she might run for president in 2020. That’s not to say that she spends every waking moment thinking about it. But it does mean that it only makes sense for someone with Harris’ profile – a sitting US senator from California – to be interested in running for (even) higher office.
You can debate whether she can win – or even whether she should run – but I find it very hard to believe that we should abide by a system that punishes a politician for thinking about being, um, a politician.
The idea that politicians aren’t like the rest of us creates these sorts of unreasonable expectations as to how they should handle questions about their future ambitions. And then we condemn these same politicians for sounding too robotic, too un-normal.
Stop the madness! We can do this!
There is absolutely no reason that politicians need to be shamed or punished for expressing ambition. Harris can push for a DACA solution and try to get some sort of gun legislation through the Senate AND also consider whether or not she should run for president. She – and all the rest of us! – can hold more than one (or even two!!) thoughts in our heads at the same time.
The idea that this is all a zero-sum game, that Harris acknowledging some interest in 2020 somehow means she is paying less attention to the here and now is, in a word, dumb. In two words? Super dumb.
If we want politicians to act, think and talk more like human beings, we need to see and treat them that way more. Ambitious is a good thing! Politicians can do two things at once! Politicians, they’re just like us!