You might be thinking, “Didn’t we just have a biracial person (who was often described as and embraced being a ‘black’ politician) who was fairly liberal on cultural issues as a major national political figure? Wasn’t he president of the United States?”
Well, yes. But here’s the big difference: Obama didn’t emerge as a presidential candidate by highlighting his strong stands on these divisive, complicated cultural issues, as Harris is attempting to do. In fact, his rise was in large part because he implied that America was not as divided on those issues as it seemed — and that those divides were diminishing. The 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that launched him to the national stage seems, now that we are in the Trump era, almost crazily optimistic. (“There’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” he said back then. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”)
Whatever the reality of such statements, the political strategy behind them made sense: It’s hard to imagine that America a decade ago would have embraced a nonwhite politician who wasn’t downplaying cultural divides and emphasizing unity. Back then, someone regularly talking about his or her ancestors being kidnapped and enslaved probably had no chance at being elected president.