With every new story trying to repackage and remarket Kamala Harris to an indifferent public, I can’t help thinking of the Newman’s Own salad dressing labels. Each had the same picture of Paul Newman but in different ridiculous costumes, depending on the cultural origins of the flavor. Did you come to the supermarket looking for Dude Ranch Paul Newman or Julius Caesar Torso Bust Paul Newman? Perhaps you’d like to try Beekeeper Paul Newman (honey mustard) or Three Musketeers Paul Newman (creamy Italian).
The vice president is famous for her word salad, so perhaps the analogy is apt. It’s what came to mind when I read the USA Today headline, “Is Dubai Harris the Kamala everyone has been waiting for? Will she convince doubters?”
So you didn’t like Border Guard Harris or Reproductive Rights Harris or Gun Control Harris. Perhaps Dubai Harris is the Harris for you!
The problem with these stories is that they have become unintentionally condescending to the veep, and that does not help broaden her appeal. Consider how the Dubai Harris story begins:
When a temporary cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war collapsed, Vice President Kamala Harris found herself in United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, pulling aside sheiks, generals and powerful Middle Eastern leaders.
When she was done, she emphasized the Biden administration’s staunch support for Israel’s right to defend itself after the bloody Oct. 7 Hamas rampage. But she also made clear Washington’s mood had shifted as the civilian death toll surged.
So, when the ceasefire collapsed, the vice president pulled aside world leaders and…what, exactly? She didn’t negotiate a truce, but she did talk to important people? As the report put it: “Harris’ remarks that day, her command of the room, were a glimpse of the politician whose potential seemed unlimited just four years ago but whose image and presidential prospects have together dimmed under the intense scrutiny that followed her ascent to the second-highest office in the land.”
Her command of the room. Okay.
There isn’t actually any example of this “command” in the story. We’re just told it existed. About three weeks after the event.
Another glaring problem with these types of stories is that they all repeat the supposed causes of Kamala’s failure to thrive. She’s being leashed, we’re told—in this case the example is of Harris reluctantly fleeing from unscripted questions after an event. Or she was given the wrong assignments: “Harris’ positions as a candidate were to the left of Biden’s on many issues, and she was not helped by White House assignments that were a poor fit for her skill set.”
Every story on Harris says this. Every single one. You could recite it by heart. Harris is too scripted, Harris was saddled with difficult problems to solve instead of being given meaningless busy work, etc.
The Dubai Harris makeover has a certain logic to it: Portray her as a statesman, someone who can step into Biden’s Sketchers if need be. But Dubai isn’t where the votes are, so it’s unclear what problem Dubai Harris is supposed to solve. In fact, the vice president isn’t generally where the votes are.
Which brings us to the real problem. The fear is not that Harris loses Biden votes. The fear is that if Biden doesn’t run again, Harris loses the election.
If Biden really is going to be the candidate—as he appears to be—then the campaign can only lose by trying to puff up Harris. It will remind voters of Biden’s age, first of all. Second of all, if Dubai Harris signals any change in foreign policy, it’s only going to underscore the sense of disorder and unease already swirling around the White House, and it undermines Biden’s consistency.
So please: Stop relabeling Kamala Harris like she’s salad dressing. If you won’t pull an unpopular product from the shelves, at least put it behind the Newman’s Own.