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?
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.