Ellen DeGeneres and Kamala Harris are two women on very different career trajectories.
DeGeneres has built an Oprah-like brand around her offensively inoffensive afternoon TV show. She dances, she tells dad jokes, she’s obsequiously nice. But lo and behold, producing that kind of pap apparently involves being not-so-nice.
A series of staffers have come forward to reveal a toxic work culture in which employees who take medical leave after suicide attempts are fired, senior producers sexually harass their underlings and staffers on a valuable TV property famous for lavish giveaways have faced significant salary cuts over the past few months. Be kind!
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Kamala Harris got the deal of a lifetime. Having bombed out of the Democratic primary process before a single vote was even cast, the California senator became Joe Biden’s running mate. In normal years, this would make her a messaging tool, a backstop in the event of tragedy and the campaign’s most vocal surrogate.
In this case, however, it’s understood Harris is more of a relief pitcher warming up in the bullpen, ready to take over when one too many of Biden’s neurons goes bye-bye. Given that we may have already passed that threshold, it’s been a good week for her.
At least Harris has never made being “nice” her brand — but in a campaign that’s stressing unity, perhaps joking about potentially killing the current president isn’t helpful.
And yet, just two years ago, Harris and DeGeneres had a good, hearty laugh about potentially doing away with Donald Trump — or Mike Pence, or Jeff Sessions. The clip of that exchange is making the rounds again — and it doesn’t reflect well on the Democrats.
Harris appeared on “Ellen” in April of 2018 for one of those batting-practice interviews Democrats can unfailingly expect from DeGeneres. (Here, at least, is one area where Ellen’s “Be Kind” mantra almost always applies.)
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) April 5, 2018
During the “20 Questions” segment, however, things took a turn. Harris was asked whether she’d rather be stuck in an elevator with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence or then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
After a theatrical eye-roll, Harris responded, “Does one of us have to come out alive?”
Both host and guest — as well as the audience — found this uproarious.
Check it out here:
See, it’s funny because nobody there likes any of these people and if they were stuck in an elevator with them, it’s justifiable homicide time.
Now, in Harris’ defense, she wasn’t necessarily talking about killing the president. If her way out of the elevator conundrum was assassination, my guess is she’d have picked Sessions. While a year younger than Trump, he’s not quite as physically robust as the president. She could take him pretty easily. Ha ha! Killing can be hysterical.
The segment didn’t generate a whole lot of news back when it happened. The coverage seemed to focus on whether or not she was going to run for president and her answer to another question, this one involving her first celebrity crush. It was Tito Jackson. (I know we make youthful mistakes and, as Woody Allen infamously put it, the heart wants what it wants — but can we not at least admit Harris was making bad judgment calls from a tender age?)
As the San Francisco Chronicle’s website SFGate noted, there was some pushback in the conservative media sphere over what it described as the “edgier” line of questioning involving Trump, Pence, Sessions and murder. SFGate cited the Drudge Report and Sean Hannity both taking note of the fact Harris was talking about killing a Republican president (or his veep, or his attorney general) and saying that Harris “has yet to respond to the conservative hoopla.”
Yeah, those conservatives getting so uptight about a senator joking about slaying the president. What a bunch of hoopla.
My assumption is that this clip is going to stick around for a while, given the campaign. It’s bad timing for Ellen, although I doubt either Hollywood or whoever’s updating Vox’s “Why Ellen DeGeneres is toxic, explained” (or whatever the title is) is going to care much about this. Other people will.
As for Harris, it’s important to remember her own presidential campaign stressed “unity.” Meanwhile, in a tweet shortly after she was announced as Biden’s running mate, she wrote that Biden could “unify” the country:
.@JoeBiden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he’ll build an America that lives up to our ideals.
I’m honored to join him as our party’s nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) August 11, 2020
Jokes are jokes and we can all change a lot in two years. That said, if the first thing that came to Kamala Harris’ mind at the mere thought of being in an elevator with the president or a member of his administration is whether or not she could murder them, maybe this isn’t the unity candidate you’re looking for.
Neither Harris nor Biden has to “Be Kind.” This is politics, after all. (And Biden is well known for his pugnacious personality in public appearances.)
However, “Be the Kind of Person Who Doesn’t Joke About Killing Your Political Adversaries” isn’t too much to ask — particularly when Kamala Harris is a running mate that’s a bit more than your average running mate.
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