LITTLE ROCK — Purely as a sporting proposition, I would love to watch Donald Trump debate Sen. Kamala Harris. The combination of her race, her beauty and her lacerating wit would scare him half to death. I’m guessing he’d concoct an excuse not to show up. Not his type, you see. Definitely not his type at all.
That goes for Donald Trump Jr., too. He viewed it as a “Wow!” moment that some African-American Trumpist said Harris isn’t really black because her parents were born in Jamaica and India.
If you’re looking for a working definition of bigotry, that would do. Don Jr. subsequently withdrew his ill-advised tweet because he feared people would misunderstand.
Misunderstand what? It seems perfectly clear to me.
Then there’s the matter of Harris’ political ruthlessness. If not particularly honest, there’s no doubt her takedown of former Vice President Joe Biden during last week’s Democratic debates was carefully scripted. Scolding her rival for co-sponsoring anti-federal busing legislation back in 1974 — that’s right, 45 years ago — Harris informed him that “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.”
Caught by surprise, Biden did a poor job of explaining that locally mandated racial integration plans were exactly the kind he favored — as opposed to the almost universally disliked federal government schemes concocted in Washington. No matter. According to the Sacramento Bee, “Harris’ campaign immediately posted an elementary school photo of the senator on Twitter and started selling $30 ‘That Little Girl Was Me’ T-shirts on its website to commemorate the viral moment.”
Now that’s some fancy political footwork. In San Francisco, she later told reporters that she supports busing today as a way to integrate schools: “Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in [school],” she said. “We need to put every effort, including busing, into play to desegregate the schools.”
Fat chance of that, regardless of who’s elected president in 2020. If Harris thinks Biden’s talking to segregationists back in the ‘70s was a shame — one of whom, Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge, he’d described as “one of the meanest guys I ever knew” — just wait until she tries to get their political heirs like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring back busing.
So it’s all posturing, nothing else. For that matter, fat chance of getting most Democrats to support such a scheme. As liberal-leaning columnist Froma Harrop reminds us, even back in the day, “a Gallup poll ... indicated that only 9 percent of blacks and 4 percent of whites preferred busing as a means of integrating schools.”
Indeed, I would argue that, historically speaking, busing did a lot of harm: creating white-flight suburbs that hollowed out the cities, hurting urban public schools, and fostering segregated private academies. It’s largely responsible for the kind of politically unipolar neighborhoods everybody pretends to lament, although the sad truth is that public school integration alone did a lot of that.
In the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock, where I live, for example, persons unwilling to send their children to the city’s famous Central High School moved away, leaving Republicans thin on the ground. Fine with me, frankly, although the rural Arkansas county where we’d spent the previous 10 years voted 2-to-1 for Trump, and I had no problem with that either.
But I digress. Back to Kamala Harris. With her father a Stanford University economics professor and her mother an M.D. breast cancer researcher, after their divorce Harris attended high school in Montreal, Quebec — hardly a hardscrabble youth, indeed less so than Joe Biden’s, whose father sold used cars.
No matter. Post-debate polls appear to show Harris’ calculated attack upon the front-runner was mission accomplished. Biden dropped as many as 10 points in some surveys, and Harris appears to have attracted most of them. More damaging was the perception that the old pro had lost a few steps. Is the former vice president really up to the job of taking on Trump?
My own impression was twofold: First, Biden appeared taken aback by the seemingly personal animus in Harris’ attack. He won’t be ambushed next time. Second, I thought he looked tired. At his age, I’d have scheduled a few hours of downtime before an evening event — not napping, just time away from the crowd.
But then to me, being president would be far less exhausting than the harrowing ordeal of campaigning for it.
No point pretending to be 35. You’re not. Besides, Trump himself is a fat old man.
One debate, moreover, is just that. Get back to me six months from now. By then, the posers will have dropped out, and Democratic voters will have serious decisions to make.
Bringing back 1970s-style busing won’t be among them.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.” You can email Lyons at email@example.com.