What he was wearing was not and is not the most important guage of how successful his appearance with the other North American leaders will be judged. It is, nevertheless, a measurement by which he will be judged. Appearances do count. People notice these things. It's unfortunate but this is a media era. And he's sending a message to the world about himself, he's representing the country. Any business leader knows that there's an informal dress code for such things. Any one in their right mind, representing any institution for that matter knows the basics and on this count, Harper failed. So does it really mean anything, substantively? Does it raise questions about whether he's ready for prime time? Such appearances aren't conclusive but they raise doubt that he is. They lead people to naturally assess whether Harper effectively represents us on the international stage, especially since he's had little experience in this regard. So that's how fashion becomes a metaphor here.
He's the new guy and he did little during this summit to suggest that he's a force to be reckoned with. Consider this report in the Washington Post today:
The long-standing dispute over U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber that is a major irritant in Ottawa didn't even come up Friday, perhaps a sign of how stalemated the issue is. The day before, Bush had promised only to "negotiate in good faith and a timely fashion" while Harper threatened legal action if agreement is not forthcoming.So Harper held his own in articulating the Canadian position on border crossings and softwood lumber but whether anything will happen, it's wait and see. If Bush does anything concession-wise for Harper, it's due to Bush's self-interest in demonstrating he's capable of reaching out to the world in response to his poor polling numbers. It is not clear that it will be due to any of Harper's personal diplomacy...
The requirement that all people coming into the United States after 2007 - whether from Canada or Mexico - present a passport or some other tamper-proof document is another subject of great concern that Harper raised. Bush said he understands the fears, but didn't back down.