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Opinion Democrats should listen to Kamala Harris and follow her example.

Vice President Harris speaks at the National Education Association annual meeting in Chicago on July 5. (Tannen Maury/Bloomberg)

Kamala Harris has had her troubles — as most vice presidents do — carving out a definitive role in the Biden administration and navigating petty (and often sexist) coverage. But with female voters more important than ever to Democrats, and two critical issues on which she has a powerful voice moving front and center, she has an opportunity to invigorate her party.

Lately, she has made the most of her opening in four ways:

1) She is putting the Supreme Court on the ballot as a threat to equality and democracy.

Harris started her career as a prosecutor, and if ever the country needed a lawyer to dissect the right-wing Supreme Court justices’ sloppy reasoning and warped history, it is now.

She ably stepped up the day the court reversed Roe v. Wade. “This is the first time in the history of our nation that a constitutional right has been taken from the people of America,” she said in Illinois. She immediately put the abortion decision in its proper context, characterizing it as an attack on the right to privacy. “Think about it as the right for each person to make intimate decisions about heart and home.”

She also slammed the court for attempting to return the country and constitutional rights back to the 19th century. “In holding that it is not deeply rooted in our history, today’s decision on that theory, then, calls into question other rights that we thought were settled, such as the right to use birth control, the right to same-sex marriage, the right to interracial marriage. The great aspiration of our nation has been to expand freedom, but the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable.”

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On the topic of abortion specifically, now is the time for her to make clear that denying access to abortion, especially in states with high maternal death rates, is gambling with women’s lives.

2) She is calling out Republicans for what they are: extremists.

As she said at the annual meeting for the National Education Association in Chicago on Tuesday:

These extremist so-called leaders fought against raising your pay … These extremist so-called leaders refuse to keep assault weapons off our streets and out of our classrooms and tried to silence your voice through your union …
While you work hard to teach the principles of liberty and freedom in your classroom, these so-called leaders are taking freedoms away: freedom away from women and the freedom to make decisions over their own bodies; freedom away from a kindergarten-to-third-grade teacher in Florida to love openly and with pride; and away from every American as they intentionally try to make it more difficult for folks to vote.

Extremists threatening freedom. Now, there’s a message Democrats might get behind.

3) She is expressing contempt for Republicans’ ludicrous defense of easy access to semiautomatic weapons.

In the same speech on Tuesday, she declared over applause that “teachers should not have to practice barricading a classroom. Teachers should not have to know how to treat a gunshot wound. And teachers should not be told that ‘Lives would have been saved if only you had a gun.’ ”

In other words, Harris isn’t shy about pointing out when Republicans insult voters’ intelligence with catchphrases such as “all we need is a good guy with a gun.” (It sure didn’t help in the Uvalde, Tex., mass shooting.)

4) She is redirecting Democrats to productive action.

In her Tuesday speech, Harris reiterated a promise that most Democrats have made on the campaign trail: “Congress needs to have the courage to act and renew the assault weapons ban.” For that to happen, voters must send more help so the administration can get this done.

Harris also counseled that “we all know that history has never been an unbroken line toward progress; that even when we have advances, there will be setbacks.” She was blunt: “In certain times, those setbacks being more drastic than in others … There’s so much strength in what we achieve, but there is also fragility. So we must be vigilant.” She added that “it’s the nature of it, so do not despair. Do not be overwhelmed.” Her closer should be the mantra for Democrats: “Do not throw up our hands when it is a time to roll up our sleeves.”

Part prosecutor. Part campaign organizer marshaling the most powerful case against the GOP (extremists threatening freedom). And part no-nonsense parent. Harris seems to be channeling her mother, who she often says would respond to complaints about unfairness with: “So what are you going to do about it?” That’s a formula to get Democrats back on track and capitalize on Republicans’ egregious overreach.

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