The Democrats’ internecine racism war continues apace, and Kamala Harris wants to stoke it even further. While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trades shots with Nancy Pelosi and the Congressional Black Caucus, Harris once again went on the attack against Joe Biden over his previous opposition to forced busing. This morning, Harris told a radio audience that Biden’s engaging in “revisionist history,” even as Harris’ own position on the issue remains somewhat vague:
Sen. Kamala Harris is taking fresh aim at fellow 2020 hopeful Vice President Joe Biden over his remarks on busing in the first Democratic debate, calling his efforts to explain himself “revisionist history.”
“I’m not going to let us engage on a debate stage for who’s going to be the next president of the United States — I’m not going to allow us to engage in revisionist history,” Harris said in a taping of the popular New York-based syndicated radio program “The Breakfast Club,” which aired Friday morning.
“I can’t stand on that stage and allow certain conversations to be taking place,” Harris told the radio hosts.
When asked by host Charlamagne tha God if she’s for or against busing, Harris said she was for the federally mandated policy at the time.
Really? That would be yet another new position for Harris, who didn’t quite claim that policy in the debate with Biden last month. A few days later, Harris had backed all the way up to Biden’s professed position in the debate, which is that it’s not a valid option for federal intervention:
After a Democratic Party picnic Wednesday in West Des Moines, Harris was asked by reporters whether she supports federally mandated busing.
“I think of busing as being in the toolbox of what is available and what can be used for the goal of desegregating America’s schools,” she responded.
Asked to clarify whether she supports federally mandated busing, she replied, “I believe that any tool that is in the toolbox should be considered by a school district.”
That’s what Biden’s position was and is, too. So who’s the revisionist? It certainly seems to be Harris, who told Iowa voters one thing and The Breakfast Club something else entirely.
The difference is presumably because busing sells in the urban cores, where decades of progressive leadership — and busing itself — has created a disastrous educational climate. It doesn’t sell in the very areas where busing would need to find students to swap, and it ignores the core problems of inner-city economics and the lack of resources for local schools that the white-flight reaction to busing in the 196os and 1970s exacerbated and accelerated. Harris tiptoed around that because, as I wrote in my column at The Week, the sudden focus on busing threatens all the gains Democrats made in 2018 and perhaps much more:
What might be more important is where busing would be unpopular today. One major if unintended consequence of forced busing was an acceleration of “white flight,” as parents opted out by moving their families from the cities to the suburbs. Not only did the outflow of more affluent families, including black and Hispanic families, starve school districts of children to bus into those schools, it also drove capital and a large part of the urban tax base out with them, along with the resources to address failing schools.
As those school districts exist today, busing wouldn’t solve the problem — much as it didn’t in the 1970s. To get the influx of enough non-minority students into those schools to make a meaningful impact on the de facto segregation left behind as a consequence of white flight, a Democratic administration would have to get the students from the suburbs. It would also take the Supreme Court overturning its precedent in Milliken v. Bradley, which limited busing to within school districts, but numerically the suburbs would be the only source for busing exchanges on the scale needed.
Therein lies the 2020 risk. Cohen mentions a number of losing issues bandied by Democrats in the past few weeks, but none of them are as potentially explosive as busing. Slavery reparations are hypothetical at best, and none of its small number of advocates have any realistic suggestions as to how it would work. Medicare-for-all might be more developed as a policy, but at least thus far it’s being sold as only an indirect change to the way health care gets reimbursed. Busing, however, sends a clear and unequivocal message to suburban voters: Democrats plan to send their children far from home for their education, again.
FiveThirtyEight’s Geoffrey Skelley did a good job quantifying Democratic gains in the suburbs in 2018’s midterms. It certainly looked as though Trump fatigue had hit these key districts, and that suburban voters wanted a return to normalcy. If Democrats want to keep debating on whether to force their children to attend schools 50 miles away in failing districts, though, those same voters — who elected Trump in 2016 — are going to have a rapid change of heart.
That might be true even in the first-ring suburbs where Democrats already had an advantage:
Democrats went into the midterms with a 56/27 advantage in “dense suburban” House districts and came out the other side with a 68/15 lead. The fears of a new era of busing would likely hit those districts harder and could give Trump and the GOP more momentum — and permanently make Democrats a party whose appeal is limited strictly to urban cores. That would not only lose the presidency, it would likely hand back the House and put the Senate out of reach.
The Milliken precedent is instructive in this debate. It essentially limited busing to Biden’s professed position, although that was hugely controversial at the time. Among its other alleged flaws, it made school districts superior to states in terms of addressing school assignments, which would be an obvious route to attack it if the situation arose again. School districts can bus with Milliken, but states and the federal government can’t force students across district lines — and it’s the districts themselves that have become indirectly segregated now, not just schools, thanks to demographics within those district boundaries.
If Harris plans on federal intervention to impose busing, her administration would have challenge Milliken in order to move students not just out of failing schools but failing school districts. That would require an abandonment of stare decisis worship from Democrats, who have been holding that line to protect Roe v Wade and especially Casey v Planned Parenthood. It would require judicial activism on a scale only dimly hinted at in Democratic fever dreams during the confirmation hearings of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
In terms of electoral impact, Harris’ obsession with reviving the busing debate has much more potential to derail Democrats than Ocasio-Cortez’ nonsensical race-card-tossing at Pelosi. Trump has a wide opening to attack Democrats on this point and remind suburban voters of just how much social engineering Harris and others plan to do with their children.