An apology for a compliment?

After further review, I still can’t decide if the president of the United States deserved to have a personal foul called on him.

While other basketball fans were busy watching their NCAA brackets exploding in their faces last week, Barack Obama committed what some people felt was a verbal double-dribble of his own. Speaking at a fundraiser, he introduced California attorney general Kamala Harris by saying, “She’s brilliant and she’s dedicated, she’s tough. She also happens to be, by far, the best-looking attorney general … . It’s true! C’mon.”

Apparently some people thought that was sexist, so Mr. Obama felt it necessary to call Ms. Harris later that day and apologize.

My instinct when I read the story was to say, “no harm, no foul.” Being referred to as the best-looking anything is not necessarily the worst thing that can happen to you, although it’s not something I’ve personally experienced.

But then I remembered the lessons of the consciousness-raising ’60s, in which we learned that it’s never appropriate to comment upon a successful woman’s physical appearance. No way. No how. Not unless the successful woman in question was a beauty contest winner or something like that. Even then, you wouldn’t want to dwell too heavily on it, lest you come off sounding like Brent Musberger.

Besides, if the president of the United States goes around commenting on the physical appearances of our leaders, where might that lead? Will he start referring to female congresspersons as “chicks?” What’s to stop him from calling Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor “one hot momma?”

To find out what my opinion on this issue was, I checked with my wife, who said, “You probably shouldn’t go there.”

But then I went to an even higher authority, Facebook, and read a comment from a successful woman who wrote:

“I do not understand how President Obama complimenting the California Attorney General is sexist. It’s just dumb. He was being nice — plus, he actually knows the woman, and they’re friends. So … what’s the big deal?”

I don’t know. Is it all right to comment on the physical appearance of a successful woman? Is it all right to comment on the physical appearance of an unsuccessful woman? Should he have apologized to the attorney general for saying she looked attractive? Or maybe he should have apologized to all the other attorneys general, for implying that they are not as attractive.

I’d be happy to hear what you think. Send your comments via email. Or address your letters to “The Best Looking Columnist at the Newspaper.”

If any of your letters actually arrive at my desk, I’ll be glad to read them.

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