The best that can be said of Kamala Harris' speech at the DNC on Wednesday night is that it was the second best of the evening. But putting it that way doesn't quite capture the reality of what happened. Barack Obama delivered an incredible speech — a rhetorically accomplished, complexly argued case for defeating Donald Trump, and he delivered it impeccably, staring straight into the camera, drilling right to the souls of the American people.
In that respect, Harris was in an impossible position. Originally Obama's remarks were supposed to follow the speech of the vice-presidential nominee, but the former president reportedly suggested flipping the order once Harris' name was announced. That inadvertently set Harris up for failure. But if she had gone first, her pedestrian, disjointed speech, delivered in a tone of phony overacting, would have been largely forgotten by the morning. Obama really was that good, and Harris really was that bad.
Rather than making an argument, Harris set out to do what she was expected to — introduce herself to the country. But she did it in a cloying, cliché-ridden way. And she wove the story of her family and career into the political history of the country by way of the identity-politics categories so beloved of left-wing activists and the Democratic Party's consultant class. She started by talking about women. Then transitioned to Black women. Then added in her Indian heritage, and Latinos. Later she name-checked Indigenous people, denounced structural racism, and then, in a tone of high earnestness, made the most cringe-inducing declaration of the entire convention so far: "There is no vaccine for racism."
Unlike Obama, who used the camera so expertly, Harris delivered her remarks on a large stage ringed with American flags before an auditorium empty of all but a handful of journalists, photographers, and producers. The vibe started at awkward and sank lower from there.
The cardinal rule for running-mates is to do no harm to the ticket. I doubt this single speech hurt the Democrats' prospects in November. But there is no way it helped.