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Opinion: Kamala Harris finally got some good press. Unfortunately, it’s all about AirPods

The vice president’s distrust of wireless technology took attention from larger issues, such as why her staff is quitting

California Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate.
In this Oct. 7, 2020 photo, Democratic candidate California Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during the vice presidential debate against Vice President Mike Pence at Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Vice President Kamala Harris finally got some good press this week. Unfortunately for the Democratic Party, it was on the subject of wireless headphones.

Even news outlets across the Atlantic jumped in on the story, first reported by Politico, that Harris considers Bluetooth headphones a security risk. She was widely praised for protecting national security by sticking to old-fashioned, wired devices. This news may be bad for Apple at the height of the holiday shopping season, but it had to be welcomed in the vice president’s camp, which has been dealing with a parade of troublesome headlines, most recently about the resignation of Harris’ staff.

Two high profile staffers have resigned within the past month: first, communications director Ashley Etienne, then adviser and spokesperson Symone Sanders. There are reports that more resignations are coming because of a work environment that has been described as toxic and dysfunctional, not only by conservative news outlets, but also by CNN. The press has been so bad that one of Harris’ aides took to Twitter to say how much he loves his job, leading to speculation that the deputy director for operations doth protest too much. The New York Post likened David Gins’ tweet to a hostage video, saying “Blink twice if you need help.”

The gleefulness with which Harris’ troubles are being reported (often by unnamed sources) suggest that there might be schadenfreude at work, if not outright political sabotage. But even Harris’ friends are speaking publicly about the vice president’s frustration with how things are going. “It is natural that those of us who know her know how much more helpful she can be than she is currently being asked to be,” Harris’ friend Eleni Kounalakis, the lieutenant governor of California, told CNN.

The vice president’s allies are saying that criticism of Harris — to include her relative invisibility, her lack of meaningful initiatives and scant progress on problems at the border — is because of heightened scrutiny because she is a woman who is Black and South Asian.

“I think there’s no question that the type of attacks — the attacks on her that certainly, being the first she is many times over, is part of that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki recently said.

But is that demonstrably true? Not if you consider the vice president who came before her, Mike Pence.

As of this week, Harris’ approval ratings are dismal; she has a 53% disapproval rating in one poll of registered voters. The Los Angeles Times noted that Harris’ approval began to decline shortly after President Joe Biden asked her to lead the administration’s response to problems at the southern border. That was in March. Similarly, FiveThirtyEight shows a disapproval rating of just under 50% for Harris, a significant turnaround from early April, when her approval rating was 55%.

But Pence also struggled in the ratings in his first year as Donald Trump’s vice president, so much so that in August, The Washington Post pushed back on claims that Harris is the most unpopular vice president ever. In that analysis, Aaron Blake argued that Harris’ disapproval rating, then hovering around 47%, was roughly equivalent to that of Pence in 2017, given their respective polls’ margins of error. Blake also noted the unpopularity of two other vice presidents — Dick Cheney and Dan Quayle — who, even before the advent of social-media memes, were mercilessly mocked.

So, even acknowledging the continued existence of racial discrimination and misogyny in America, playing the woman card isn’t an effective political strategy here. Moreover, at least some of the people who disapprove of Harris’ performance so far voted for her 13 months ago.

Instead of using the language of victims, Harris and her staff are better off acknowledging that governing is hard work, and that positive approval ratings require public approval, something that Harris hasn’t won yet, but still could.