The speech a candidate gives on the day they announce for president is a big deal. No, not because one speech can make or break a campaign – it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and all that – but because if one speech can serve as a blueprint for where a candidate wants to go in the race, it’s the announcement speech.
Which brings me to California Sen. Kamala Harris – and the speech she made at her formal entrance into the 2020 presidential campaign on Sunday in Oakland. I went through her speech and pulled out the lines that a) you are likely to hear from her in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond over the next year and b) she is going to build her campaign around.
I’ve added a bit of context where it makes sense.
1. “We were raised in a community where we were taught to see a world, beyond just ourselves. To be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people.”
Harris is speaking of herself and her sister, Maya, here. And she is trying to make a very clear parallel between the way President Donald Trump sees the world (“Make America Great Again”) and how she sees the world (“be conscious and compassionate about the struggles of all people.”)
2. “My whole life, I’ve only had one client: the people.”
Harris will lean heavily on her background as a prosecutor and California attorney general in the presidential race, using her experiences gained in those moments as a case study for what she would do as president of the United States. That whole notion is built into her campaign slogan: “Kamala Harris: For the People.”
3. “Fighting for the people meant fighting on behalf of survivors of sexual assault – a fight not just against predators but a fight against silence and stigma.”
A powerful line in the #MeToo age – and with a President who has faced a bevy of allegations of sexual misconduct throughout his life. One of the reasons Harris is regarded as a favorite for the nomination is her profile – and how strongly it contrasts with Trump: an African-American and Indian-American woman versus a white man.
4. “I’ll tell you, sitting across the table from the big banks, I witnessed the arrogance of power. Wealthy bankers accusing innocent homeowners of fault, as if Wall Street’s mess was of the people’s making.”
Harris here is signaling that she won’t be conceding the image of a fighter against corporate greed to Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. And, judging from the success of Sanders’ campaign in 2016, which was based heavily on punishing Wall Street for its greedy practices, there’s considerable political power in that message.
5. “On the subject of transnational gangs, let’s be perfectly clear: The President’s medieval vanity project is not going to stop them.”
The first time Harris mentions Trump in the speech – although she doesn’t say his name – is to attack his plans to build a wall to stop the flow of undocumented workers into the country as a “medieval vanity project.”
6. “To be sure we’ve won and we’ve lost, but we’ve never stopped fighting.”
If you ask the average Democratic voter what they want most in a candidate against Trump in 2020, the word “fighter” will come up time and time again. Someone willing to stand up to Trump and show him that the party (and the country) won’t be bullied. Harris won’t have sole rights to the “fighter” notion but she clearly wants voters to think of her in that light.
7. “We are here knowing that we are at an inflection point in the history of our world. We are at an inflection point in the history of our nation.”
Simply put: The stakes of this election are very high. And Harris wants everyone in the crowd to know she knows that.
8. “America, we are better than this.”
To my mind, this is the most effective line of the speech – channeling a very strong sentiment among Democrats (and lots of independents) that we want the presidency to represent the best of us, and that we don’t have that right now.
9. “When we have leaders who lie and bully and attack a free press and undermine our democratic institutions, that’s not our America.”
Interesting – and important! – that the first way in which Harris chose to highlight what she believes is Trump’s un-American vision of America is by citing his attacks on the free press.
10. “People in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our American story is each other. But that is not our story.”
One of the most important parts of running against an incumbent of any sort is offering an alternative narrative, an alternate view of how things can and should be. Which is what Harris is trying to do here.
11. “When we lift up the women of our country, we lift up the children of our country. We lift up the families of our country. And the whole of society benefits.”
Reminder: Women are nearly certain to make up a majority of voters in 2020. (Women were 53% of voters in 2016.) And Harris wants to drive a very strong contrast between her background on fighting for women and that of Trump.
12. “Let’s speak the truth that too many unarmed black men and women are killed in America. Too many black and brown Americans are locked up. From mass incarceration to cash bail to policing, our criminal justice system needs drastic repair. Let’s speak that truth.”
Harris, as the only African-American candidate in the race currently, has a unique vantage point to talk about the racial injustices and inequalities still present in American society. And with Trump saying that the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville was a both-sides issue and regularly tweeting about primarily black NFL players who won’t stand for the National Anthem, race is very much a top-of-mind issue in the country these days.
13. “We have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware.”
This is, without question, the most quoted line from Harris’ speech, because it deals directly with the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. But, just my guess: I think Harris will talk a lot more about racial and economic inequality over the next year than she will talk about the Russia investigation.
14. “In the face of powerful forces trying to sow hate and division among us, the truth is that as Americans we have much more in common than what separates us.”
This vision for America runs directly counter, in Harris’ mind and in the minds of many Democrats, to the vision and governing style of Trump, who tends to see every debate and conflict in “us” vs. “them” terms, where the “us” is people who back him without questioning.
15 and 16. “When women fought for suffrage, those in power said they were dividing the sexes and disturbing the peace.”
“When abolitionists spoke out and civil rights workers marched, their oppressors said they were dividing the races and violating the word of God.”
A very clear sign for Harris that issues of gender and race will be front and center not just in her campaign but, she believes, in the broader 2020 fight to beat Trump.
17. “I stand before you today, clear-eyed about the fight ahead and what has to be done – with faith in God, with fidelity to country and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”
“Fight” and “fighting” in the same sentence – just in case you missed the mention of her as a fighter earlier in the speech.
18. “An America where our daughters, where our sisters, where our mothers and grandmothers are respected where they live and where they work.”
In 2018, Democrats saw women make the difference in the quest for the House majority – as both candidates and voters. Harris sees that coalition of women as essential to her own success in 2020, in the Democratic primary, yes, but as importantly, against Trump in the fall of 2020.
19. “I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows, I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will speak the truth.”
This is an interesting appeal – and not one with a clear partisan edge. Yes, Democrats believe Trump operates in a sort of moral vacuum. But so do lots and lots of people who identify as independents or even Republicans. I also think acknowledging her own fallibility and humanity is a smart move for Harris in an age where people don’t want their politicians to seem too perfect.
20. “As Robert Kennedy many years ago said, ‘Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.’ “
It’s not accidental that Harris is quoting a man who ran for president in a remarkably turbulent time, when it felt as though the stakes of this election couldn’t be any higher.
21. “These are not ordinary times. And this will not be an ordinary election.”
Like her or not, it’s hard to argue that Harris is wrong about this.
An earlier image of Kamala Harris was replaced because AFP, the agency that shot and edited the photo, has advised that it did not meet its quality standards.