Harris wants federally mandated school busing

A few days ago, I wrote: “I hope [Kamala Harris] will be asked to state her position on the busing of young school children for racial purposes in today’s America.” Now, she has been. Here is her answer:

I support busing. Listen, the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school.

Where states fail to do their duty to ensure equality of all people and in particular where states create or pass legislation that created inequality, there’s no question that the federal government has a role and a responsibility to step up.

It’s interesting to hear Harris say that states have a “duty to ensure equality of all people” and that the feds have “a responsibility” to step in if states don’t meet this alleged duty. Was Harris talking about a general obligation to ensure equality of the races? If so, her candidacy is beyond radical.

But even if Harris was talking only about a duty to ensure racial balance in all schools, her position is extreme and unpopular. Busing children out of their neighborhood for racial reasons has never polled well. In the early 1970s, when Harris was bused, only 4 percent of whites and 9 percent of blacks supported the idea, according to a Gallop poll.

At the end of the century, by which time such busing had been abandoned in most jurisdictions, including Berkeley where Harris went to school, 82 percent of Americans opposed busing. Blacks were split 48-44, with the plurality opposed.

I don’t know whether busing has been polled more recently. Until last week, there wasn’t much reason to take such a survey — any more than one needed to ask about Monica Lewinski, intervention in Balkan wars, or other blasts from the last century.

Harris’ support for busing raises the question of whether, if nominated, Joe Biden will put her on his ticket. I have long considered Harris to be Biden’s most likely running mate. Arguably, he needs a black or female running mate — one who is liked on the left, but not so extreme as to cause panic among swing voters. Harris seemed to fit the bill.

Even after she attacked Biden, I continued to like her chances of being on the ticket. Harris was careful to stipulate that Biden isn’t a racist. Moreover, any good politician should admire the way Harris pulled off her attack. Remember, too, that George H.W. Bush accused Ronald Reagan of “voodoo economics” and still wound up as the Gipper’s vice president.

But Harris’s support for busing in 2020 might well raise concerns for Biden. The former VP continues to oppose busing (or so he says). And though he wants a running mate who is popular on the left, I doubt that he wants one who takes positions so extreme and off-putting that they clash directly with his.

Maybe Harris thinks that by digging in this hard on racial “equality,” she can become so popular among blacks that Biden, if nominated, will have to select her. Maybe she thinks Biden won’t be the nominee.

More likely, Harris felt she needed a big moment like the one her Berkeley busing story afforded her, and that having had that moment, she couldn’t back away from supporting busing in contemporary America. The result, I’ll speculate is that Harris has raised the likelihood that she will be nominated president from slim to not insubstantial, while lowering the likelihood she will be nominated for vice president if Biden prevails from more likely than not to no better than 50-50.

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