It was the accent that stole the night.
Not the discreet strand of pearls and matching earrings worn by Senator Kamala Harris or the glowing Reagan purple tie of Vice President Mike Pence, however reasonably the fly that landed on Mr. Pence’s pure white helmet of hair halfway via the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday evening, and appeared to hang around for some time: a black spot amid the snowy expanse of his coif that was not possible to disregard.
And it sort of undermined his capability to reply the nice unstated query that hung over the occasion: Does this individual appear to be somebody who might be president?
Would she or he be convincing in that function?
After all, as Susan Page, the USA Today journalist who was the moderator, identified, each Ms. Harris and Mr. Pence would function No. 2 to the oldest president in historical past, regardless of which candidate wins. There is an actual chance somebody results in a really totally different job.
As a lot as something in the public enviornment that could be a debate, with the voters (or a piece of it anyway) judging little footage on a display, perhaps tuning into the phrases, perhaps rolling their eyes and tuning out, the candidates’ job was to mannequin what which may appear to be.
To use the second not simply to get throughout substantive coverage platforms and plans, but additionally to faucet into our lizard brains and join with the associations buried there between costume and belief, look and reliability, familiarity and energy.
No matter how a lot folks complain about taking note of such apparently superficial selections, they inform how we perceive what we hear. There’s a motive the finest one-liners find yourself on T-shirts and sweatshirts actually in a single day.
So the fly didn’t assist. The TV-watcher-in-chief, along with his penchant for “central casting” his administration, couldn’t have been happy at the mockery it engendered on his favourite social media platform. The fly was the black spot in the ointment of Mr. Pence’s picture, which has all the time appeared to belong to a Lego set, or a Build-a-Bear expertise (construct a politician!). From darkish swimsuit to pristine white shirt and favored purple ties to snowy hair that seems virtually painted on, it’s as if he got here straight out of a mould.
That’s efficient to a sure extent and could also be reassuring for some (perhaps with out the fly), however it additionally more and more looks like a relic from a distinct time.
Ms. Harris, in contrast, is one thing else: a pioneer, the first girl of coloration to be nominated for nationwide official by a significant political get together. She’s the subsequent stage of historical past.
And when the California senator took the debate stage, she dressed for it. She went totally darkish — darkish pantsuit, darkish shell beneath — at the same time as she smiled and shook her head as if in amazement at the absurdity of what she was listening to from the different facet.
In this, she was totally in keeping with her personal latest appearances — she has made one thing of a observe of sporting darkish colours, choosing deep navy for the first debate of the Democratic presidential candidates, and dark burgundy for her speech at the Democratic National Convention — but not the Hillary Clinton-Elizabeth Warren-Nancy Pelosi continuum of fruit bowl-colored jackets and pantsuits. Not the style that has become the accepted outfit for a woman in politics, treading the line as it does between classic male uniform and clichéd female shades. Not even the recent vogue for suffragist white.
Ms. Harris opted for a different narrative, one that signals a new generation and a new start and calls to mind ninjas, Navy SEALs and funerals. That has its own risks, but it also has a certain authenticity. She has always had to be a fighter. Why not acknowledge it?
In any case, the look doesn’t exactly feed into the description of her as an extreme liberal, a label that Mr. Pence and the Trump campaign keep trying to pin on Ms. Harris, and a cartoon all its own. The candidate didn’t come close to playing that part.
Her pearls spoke to tradition: both her own (she has been wearing them since her Howard University graduation photo in 1986) and that of the White House and its first ladies. Barbara Bush famously wore pearls. So did Jackie Kennedy. So did Michelle Obama. On her feet, she wore sharp pumps, not the Converse or Timberlands she has sported on the campaign trail, and that have gone viral. She observed propriety, and the occasion. Her suit was buttoned-up and sedate, with a little American flag pin on the lapel (just like Mr. Pence’s). The general effect was not of soft power, but of somber power. She looked serious and no-frills and in control.
She looked like her own person. By Thursday morning her reply to Mr. Pence’s mansplaining interruptions — “I’m speaking” — had already made it onto merch. No flies on her.