It is no secret but public knowledge that Kamala Harris slept her way up into California political life by being a very public escort and mattress for California Democrat Kingmaker Willie Brown. Willie Brown is 30 years older than Harris and was very married at the time. It was public. It was an embarrassment.
With Joe Biden’s photo metaphorically the definition of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, voters will decide in November whether they want Harris to be their president some time in the next four years. Of almost equally significant concern is what Harris represents to hard-working women across the country who devote years to their careers to rise to higher positions of importance.
Kamala Harris’s story denigrates women who worked hard all their lives, faced cruel gender stereotypes, heard and ignored snickers, encountered and overcame real true misogyny, and yet ultimately achieved great accomplishments.
As an attorney in my earliest years of practice I occasionally was assigned to work for litigation partners who are women. I cannot think of a single female litigation partner I ever met who was not brilliant, gifted, and perfectly suited to head a major litigation effort. For that matter, I cannot think of any woman among those who have been my superiors in other walks of life throughout my career who were anything less than brilliant, gifted, and perfectly suited. They attained their positions by overcoming stereotypical assumptions, snickers, working for men who often doubted their mettle and capabilities, and nevertheless proving themselves to be as capable or even more capable than the male mentors who guided them on their ladders of success. I know the same to be true of my own daughters, now in their mid-30s. I saw firsthand how hard they worked in elementary school, high school, college, graduate school, at summer jobs and in internships, and as they broke into their respective professional fields to work their ways up the ladders in their chosen careers. I know the same to have been true of my first wife, with whom the marriage was tough but her professional qualifications were impeccable, and I saw how hard she worked to achieve her goals and attain her accomplishments. And I then saw it again with Ellen, of blessed memory, my second wife, who graduated second in her high school class, fourth in her college class, and worked her way up from packing potato chips for Frito-Lay to managing white-collar investigations for decades at a major world-class university.
Yet the world is dominated by stereotypes and by unspoken assumptions. Joe Biden tells a Black voter that, if he is not sure he is voting for Biden, “then you ain’t Black.” No one talks to White voters that way. Among the stereotypes and assumptions that unfairly hinder many women is the unspoken whisper that “she probably slept her way up to that position.” It is a terrible stereotype, and it hurts women terribly. Do most women sleep their way up? No. Do many? No. Do some? Probably a few. And those few do horrific harm to the image and reputations of all the 99-plus percent of women who earned everything they have achieved in their lives.
That is why Kamala Harris, who openly and brazenly slept her way into California Democrat state politics by publicly hooking onto the very married Willie Brown, should matter to all women — regardless of ethnicity, color, religion, or party. Just as, despite the wrong assumptions on which she plays, Harris simply is not an “African American” — her parents are from India and British Jamaica — she likewise is not a woman who rose the way that Americans teach their daughters to achieve. Yes, she went to high school, college, and law school. Good for her. So did zillions of other Americans. And then, with law degree in hand, those other Americans had to prepare résumés, do often-unpaid internships and summer volunteer jobs if not clerkships, interview for entry-level positions, and do the lowest-on-the-totem-pole legal tasks at their new positions for a few years as they worked their way up. It was not as simple as just being a mattress.
When I was in law school I went the extra mile by trying to “make” law review. I further extended myself and, through my own exceptionally hard work and months of research and effort, successfully wrote a law review article that was deemed of sufficient quality to merit my being promoted to be Chief Articles Editor of law review. Over time, that same law review article would be cited by at least nine different federal judges in judicial opinions they respectively would hand down in cases brought under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA) dealing with the fiduciary duties of officers and directors of financial institutions. Thanks in part to that hard work, I was offered the opportunity of a lifetime to clerk for a brilliant and gifted United States federal appeals court judge, the Hon. Danny J. Boggs, who would become the chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and who even was on a short list for the United States Supreme Court.
Then I began my litigation career at Jones Day, an enormously prestigious international law firm of more than 1,000 of the world’s top attorneys. Alas, for all the prestige, life at the bottom as a first-year associate was often bleak, inglorious, entailed absorbing enormous personal emotional abuse from one or two arrogant and pathological litigation partners who enjoyed lording their power and psychologically abusing new associates, and working brutally long overnight hours. One of my closest colleagues killed herself over Christmas Week vacation; she could not take it any longer. Over the next 10 years I worked my way up the ladder, first at Jones Day and next at Akin Gump. As I kept inching towards the top over nearly a decade, I knew that this line of work would not ultimately be for me. Having by then married my second wife, a life partner who shared my dreams and who supported my passion to return to the rabbinate, I left that world and transitioned back to the rabbinate, to legal consulting, to teaching, and to writing. I had “earned my stripes,” my income level from which I now was departing, and all I had attained.
In that sense, I am not at all unique. That is the American Way, regardless of vocation, trade, or profession. That is the way I made it, and that is the way that 99-plus percent of all successful people make it, whether in law, in medicine, in carpentry, in electronics, in high tech, in accounting, or on the assembly line: through hard work and honest ethical effort. In the particular field of law, it is about working hard in school, hard studying, tough final exams, a brutal state bar exam, years of working long hours and gaining promotions and pay raises by producing increasingly excellent work. With that hard work and success, experienced attorneys find that newcomers assigned to them as subordinates approach them with respect because the newest attorneys realize what it takes and what it took for their assigned superiors to have reached the top. I never heard a whisper of suspicion that anyone ever rose up the ranks in Jones Day or Akin Gump by spreading legs.
Yet so many successful people unfairly face suspicions, born of stereotypes and of jealousies. “Oh, he got it because his father or mother runs the law firm.” “Oh, this firm is a long-time [Catholic / Protestant / Jewish] law firm, so because she is [Catholic / Protestant / Jewish], they promoted her instead of me.” One hears that. One wonders.
Kamala Harris’s story denigrates women who worked hard all their lives, faced cruel gender stereotypes, heard and ignored snickers, encountered and overcame real true misogyny, and yet ultimately achieved great accomplishments. Kamala Harris instead is a poster child for those extremely few women who despicably chose to take the short-cut up the ladder through frisky behavior with married men 30 years their senior. That play and strategy did not work out well for Monica Lewinsky, whose name forever will be associated with vice. Our society’s rejection and mockery of Lewinsky to this day, a quarter century later, is the vice precedent that should define Kamala Harris. Vice precedent, Kamala Harris.