In the view of CNN, the news amounted to a triumph for Kamala Harris. In an “analysis” posted on February 14, Nia-Malika Henderson, the news network’s Senior Political Reporter, said that the just-announced endorsement of the first-term California senator by Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was the presidential candidate’s “biggest endorsement to date” and represented “an undeniable boost.” Lee, noted Henderson, had not only thrown her support to Harris but also agreed to co-chair her California campaign.
To underscore the importance of Lee’s backing, Henderson described Lee as an “all-around anti-war and social justice activist star” and “progressive icon” and observed that she “has been called ‘the House’s lefty conscience.’” She was, Henderson pointed out, “the only member of Congress to vote against authorization for the use of force in the days after 9/11.” By teaming up with Harris, Lee was helping the senator to “burnish her progressive credentials.” Moreover, Lee’s announcement “might also foreshadow a show of force” by other “progressive stalwarts” such as Maxine Waters.
The tone of Henderson’s “analysis” of the Lee endorsement was not unique. Other mainstream news media also depicted it as a great leap forward for Harris, and described Lee in similarly glowing terms.
What Henderson omitted, and what many other media reports also chose not to mention, was the – shall we say – complex reality behind the carefully cultivated image of Lee as “icon” and “conscience” and “star.”
For one thing, this is a woman who began her career as a member of the Black Panthers – and who, as recently as 2017, supported the use of funds from the National Park Services (NPS) budget to pay tribute to the Panthers’ memory with something called the Black Panther Party Research, Interpretation & Memory Project. When the NPS decided not to spend its resources on the project, Lee issued a livid statement that described the Black Panther Party – that violent group of murderous revolutionary thugs – as “an integral part of the civil rights movement.”
Lee also voted against condemning the so-called Goldstone Report, that scandalous United Nations document that whitewashed Palestinian terrorism while falsely accusing the Israeli Defense Forces of deliberately targeting Arab civilians. Even the report’s lead author, South African judge Richard Goldstone, ultimately withdrew his imprimatur from it – but not Lee.
Perhaps most appalling, Lee has been a stalwart supporter of the Cuban Communist regime and was personally chummy with Fidel Castro. Over the years, she visited Cuba more than twenty times and met with Fidel on eight of those occasions.
It was Lee who played the key role in the reprehensible return to Cuba, in the year 2000, of six-year-old Elian Gonzales, whose mother had perished at sea in her effort to bring him to freedom in the U.S.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2014 on a 2009 memo by Fidel documenting a five-hour meeting at his Havana home with Lee, who was there to serve as a liaison with the new Obama administration.
When Fidel died in November 2016, Lee said that she was “very sad for the Cuban people” and claimed that Fidel had brought “social improvements” to the island. Yes, she admitted, Cubans had experienced hard times, but Lee put a bright face on them: gasoline rationing forced them to ride bikes, and that brought down “their rates of diabetes and high blood pressure.” Calling Fidel “a smart man” and a “historian,” Lee said: “We need to stop and pause and mourn his loss.”
But that wasn’t all: when then President-elect Trump issued a statement calling Castro “a brutal dictator” whose “legacy” was “one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights,” Lee lit into him, saying his comments on Castro were “not presidential at all….This not how you react as a world leader.”
This, then, is the “icon” who has now joined up with the presidential campaign of Kamala Harris. Make of that development what you will.