CBS News screenshot

Vice Presidenting is hard. While few veeps have ever approached the job like Mike Pence did, acting as Donald Trump's biggest fan, the job is generally supposed to involve standing in for the president — think the first George Bush going off to all those funerals in the '80s — and trying not to slip into complete invisibility ... which also happened to GHW Bush, too.

The last thing a veep should want is to stand out in the wrong way, like the turd in a punchbowl moments when Dan Quayle "corrected" a school kid's spelling of "potato" by insisting it should have an e on the end, then got into a fight with a fictional TV newscaster over her unwed motherhood. Worse, Dick Cheney's showed up at ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, wearing a goddamn parka with his name embroidered on it — "the way in which children's clothes are inscribed with their names before they are sent away to camp," as WaPo's style columnist Robin Givhan memorably put it.


So by the "Did Kamala Harris embarrass America?" standard, the country's first woman vice president did just great on her recent solo trip to meet with leaders of southeast Asian countries, which ended yesterday. You hardly heard anything about it, and that's largely the point. She went to Singapore, gave a speech warning that China is violating international law in the South China Sea, then went on to Vietnam to say stern things bout China some more, and also to pledge the US will donate an additional million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Vietnam, bringing the total US commitment to Vietnam to six million doses.

You didn't see much of that in the news? That's how vice presidents try to do. She showed the flag, shook the hands, promised US support in these difficult times, and focused more on the US relationship with the host countries and other allies in the region, sending the message that the grownups are back in charge at the White House.

The no-drama-ness of Harris's foreign tour impressed New York Times fashion columnist Vanessa Friedman, who noted that the first woman vice president hardly made any waves at all, except when she chose to with that deliberate tough talk on China, and that while Harris's trip featured the usual "ceremonial appearances" that go along with state visits, there was virtually none of the attention to Harris's own appearance, of the sort that was the annoying norm for women politicians for decades. Harris's trip, she says, was

notable in part because of how much the focus was on what she said and how little extraneous commentary it generated; how little reaction to the theater of the trip (the costumes! the curtain raisers!).

For once, nobody said much about how a woman in politics dressed, so Friedman wrote about that negative space, like jazz.

Friedman pointed out that that probably had less to do with the media having grown up even the least bit (a prospect she dismisses as too good to be true) than it did with conscious choices by Harris and her team. She stuck to dark pantsuits, the equivalent to the "generic world leader uniform" for men of dark suits, "which is why people freak out when a president makes the rare appearance in beige. (Beige! Oh my god! Oh my god!)"

Against the backdrop of the messy evacuation from Afghanistan and the need to reaffirm America's commitment to its allies, with the Delta variant and other forms of the virus casting a cloud of fear over the world's efforts to combat the pandemic, her somber wardrobe served to reflect the somber state of the world.

It's a pretty good analysis of how Harris used her wardrobe to reinforce her mission: Be the vice president, represent Biden and America, stay on message, and for godssake don't barf on any prime ministers, save that for when you're president. Oh yes, and for international trade purposes, be seen wearing American designers. Mission accomplished.

[CNBC / NYT / CNBC / NYT / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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