Opinion: Presidential apology is due

April 11, 2013


Dear Barry:

Ordinarily, I’d address you as Mr. Obama or Mr. President, in deference to your office. But we need to have us a guy-to-guy chat here, so I hope you’ll excuse the familiarity, because I just have to ask:

Barry, brotherman, bubbeleh, what the heck were you thinking? Did you really call California Attorney General Kamala Harris, “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country” last week at a Democratic fundraiser in the Bay Area? You weren’t, like, nursing a cold and snockered on Robitussin or something? You didn’t lose a bet with Joe Biden? You actually said that, of your own free will?

Dude. Wow.

Yes, MSNBC helpfully reminds us that you’ve also complimented men on their looks, dubbing Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the entire Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team “good-looking guys.”

Want to know how much that helps you here? What’s the smallest measurable fraction this side of zero?

A man, particularly a powerful man, cannot always speak of or to a woman, as he would one of the fellas. This is what you forgot and the folks who keep saying it was “just a compliment” don’t quite get.

Is that a double standard? Yes. You darn betcha. A certain columnist who happens to be my mother’s oldest son has, in years past, identified this as something he calls the Goliath Principle, after Wilt Chamberlain’s famous observation that “nobody roots for Goliath.”

The Principle holds that, wherever there is an imbalance of power — white vs. black, boss vs. employee, big guy vs. small, man vs. woman — a double standard is an automatic and inevitable byproduct. As nobody roots for Goliath, so are those with more power always constrained in the things our unwritten societal rules allow them to say or do to those who have less. The maid who snaps at her boss is cheeky; the boss who snaps at her maid is overbearing. The small man who hits the big one is brave (or suicidal). The big man who hits the small one is a bully.

And the woman who compliments her male boss’s looks might be a kiss up or a flirt, but the male boss who does the reverse is a letch or a creep or, at the very least, the embodiment of sexism that imprisons a woman’s entirety behind miscellaneous physical attributes given by God and enhanced by Max Factor. But a woman is more than her looks.

This is a truth we heterosexual men tend to stumble on. Years ago, a woman colleague asked me about famous women I found attractive. Stupidly, I began to reel off a list. It included Marina Sirtis, whom I called “an extraordinary woman.”

My colleague flexed an eyebrow and asked what made her “extraordinary.” And I was majorly busted, man, because I knew next to nothing about the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” star — certainly nothing that would make her “extraordinary” — except that she’s gorgeous and becomes more so when she wears her “Counselor Troi” contact lenses, the ones that turn her eyes into dark, liquid pools of compassion and you gaze into them and feel yourself falling in and know there is nothing you wouldn’t tell her, no secret you wouldn’t … um … wouldn’t …

What were we talking about again?

Oh yeah. Women and their looks and the fact that the smart man avoids discussion of same. Especially if he presides over a Cabinet whose gender diversity is comparable to that of the club that meets in Bart Simpson’s treehouse.

Nor is political embarrassment your only worry. The same day you praised Harris’ looks, the first lady had a faux pas of her own. She called herself a “single mother.” I’m thinking it was no accident.

So, Barry, guy to guy, I leave you with this: Citiflowers is a florist near the White House. They’re open till 6 and take all major credit cards.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


ThePilgrim 4 years, 5 months ago

The double standard is that if a Repub or white guy called Obama as "Barry" or "brotherman" orwrote this article there would be an outcry that there was no "respect for the office".

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 5 months ago

Well, someone was in a peculiar mood. I find President Obama to be extremely handsome and that made me listen to him more during the first debates in 2008, and then I kept listening. It is a human trait that we, men and women both, would rather talk to and listen to, someone who is good looking vs. someone who is ugly.

I do know that standards of beauty and handsome vary.

jack22 4 years, 5 months ago

It's another sign of political correctness going too far when we start asking the President to apologize for complimenting a woman on her good looks. Leonard I think you owe the President an apology for suggesting that he's a "letch or a creep or, at the very least, the embodiment of sexism" for this one off hand remark.

MarcoPogo 4 years, 5 months ago

I think we've officially come to the end of "Things to Write About in Columns".

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

And your idea for "eliminating murder" would be???

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 5 months ago

I know Reid is from Nevada. I didn't know that he IS Nevada.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 5 months ago

If you could just make your argument a little more simplistically......

bearded_gnome 4 years, 5 months ago

I'll just bet Pittsie voted for Bill Clinton. that president certainly did more than compliment when it came to Monica.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.