Column: Critics say Kamala Harris is a giddy lightweight. The proof? She likes to dance and laugh

Sen. Kamala Harris on stage to launch her presidential bid at a rally in Oakland
The lightheartedness Kamala Harris displays on the campaign trail is a welcome balm in these stressful times.
(Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

One of the great pleasures of watching Sen. Kamala Harris on the campaign trail is the extraordinary amount of joy she exudes.

She smiles, she laughs, she dances. She’s tough and smart, and having the time of her life. An upbeat attitude at a time like this? Yes, please!

Her optimism speaks to the part of my soul that has been battered and bruised by the current president, a downright ugly person who is especially vicious to women, particularly women of color.


I wasn’t surprised when Donald Trump called Harris a “monster” after her debate with Vice President Mike Pence. Or that he has mocked her laugh. Or that he and other male Republicans have made a sport of mispronouncing her name. This is the sort of low-end behavior we have come to expect from Trump and his acolytes.

But lately, the attacks on Harris’ demeanor have come from even moderate Republicans. Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan, for example, joined in the attack on Harris in her Wall Street Journal column the other day. Noonan, who bemoaned the “shallowness with which politics is now done, the absolute puerility of it” accused Harris of being “giddy.”

“She’s dancing with drum lines and beginning rallies with ‘Wassup, Florida!’” wrote Noonan. “She’s throwing her head back and laughing a loud laugh, especially when no one said anything funny.… She’s coming across as insubstantial, frivolous. When she started to dance in the rain onstage to Mary J. Blige’s ‘Work That,’ it was embarrassing.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s just say someone has definitely done something embarrassing and it’s not Harris. Noonan didn’t come right out and use the word “unladylike.” She didn’t have to. You can accuse Harris of lots of things, but of being an embarrassing lightweight?

Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American on a major American presidential ticket, is a United States senator and former California attorney general. She has amply demonstrated her intelligence and competence … and that she likes to dance to Mary J. Blige.

“When you’re a white woman and a Republican, there’s just certain stuff culturally that you don’t know jack bleep about,” said MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace, aghast at Noonan’s remarks. “And you should keep your mouth shut when other people dance.”

Shortly before former Vice President Joe Biden selected Harris as his running mate, a group of high-powered women representing national feminist groups penned an open letter to the media. They were rightfully anticipating that Biden would select a woman of color, and wanted to preemptively caution against the tendency to use the kinds of “stereotypes and tropes” about female candidates that are often “amplified and weaponized for Black and Brown women.”

These include reporting on a woman’s ambition as if it is something unusual, her likability, her appearance, tone of voice, doubts about her qualifications, or displays of anger to suggest that women are “too emotional or irrational” as leaders.


“The policing of who gets to smile, who gets to dance, who gets to demonstrate joy as a candidate or a leader in this country is really disturbing,” said Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center and a coauthor of the open letter. “You can’t be too angry or too passionate because then you are an angry Black woman, but apparently you can’t laugh or dance or show joy because then you aren’t serious.”

And really, what is there for Harris to do but laugh when confronted with an absurd question, as when Norah O’Donnell of “60 Minutes” asked Harris if she would provide a President Biden with a “socialist or progressive perspective.”

Listen, as someone who has spent much of her journalism career on the features side of the shop, I will always defend stories that include colorful details about how a candidate looks and talks, as long as the information is not gratuitous.

We’ve probably exhausted the subject of Trump’s hair at this point, but there was no way to avoid talking about it, at least at first. Likewise, his bizarre face makeup and strangely long ties have occasioned plenty of perfectly valid commentary. At the end of his superspreader-event rallies, he has taken to awkwardly dancing to the Village People’s gay anthem “YMCA.” His moves may be a crime against rhythm, but I haven’t seen them used to show he’s unworthy of his office. (He is unworthy of the office, but not because he dances like a constipated dad.) In fact, the Associated Press called his dancing a “rare moment of levity in an otherwise miserable campaign year.”

On the campaign trail as in life, the double standard for how the genders behave is alive and well.

The way I see it, joy beats snarling and lying any day.

I hope Harris laughs and dances all the way to the White House next week.