3 reasons Obama needed to apologize to AG Kamala Harris

A letter to President Obama: Would a woman president compliment a male attorney general on how handsome he is? Seriously doubt it. Photo: President Obama talks with AG Kamala Harris in 2012 AP

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2013 — Dear Mr. President, Ever since you complimented California attorney general Kamala Harris at a Democratic fundraiser this past week, the reactions have swung from cringing by your supporters to shout outs for you by people on the Right, those who normally cringe at everything you do.

You had said, “…say she [Kamala Harris] is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake.” So far so good, and then you stepped in it.

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“She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

When the crowd broke into laughter, you added, “It’s true! C’mon.”

It might very well be true, but it was inappropriate, Mr. Obama. And thank goodness someone had the sense to call you out on it. Michelle, perhaps?

Then you took that “someone’s” advice and call AG Kamala Harris to apologize. However, it didn’t look like much of an apology to many of us. Your press secretary Jay Carney said you apologized “for the distraction created by his [Obama] comments.”

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Distraction? You think that was all it was? For you maybe, but that’s because deep down you really didn’t understand the sexism of your remarks.

You also added that you “did not want in any way to diminish the attorney general’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities.”

Really that was it, Mr. President? Then you and a lot of the media pundits on the Left and the Right, particularly my male colleagues, don’t get it.

To help you better understand the outrage by so many women, here are three reasons your “compliment” was so very far out of bounds:

1. You are basically her boss, Mr. President.

Yes, the people of California elected her, but she also oversees justice in your name as well. Bosses who flirt cross a line. Imagine if Hillary Clinton were president and she complimented the handsome attorney general of Maryland, Doug Gansler, not only on his outstanding service but for his good looks. Actually it is hard to imagine such a gaffe, isn’t it? Women bosses — nine times out of 10 — unlike men know how to keep such thoughts to themselves.

2. Women want to be judged on their accomplishments and not how pretty or unpretty they are.

Men are not complimented on their hunkiness, unless they are a movie star or a model, but on what they accomplish. To mix the two compliments is to demean AG Harris’ capabilities. Being very pretty is great, but something she has no control over, the luck of the genetic draw. But being an outstanding attorney general, one of only nine women who hold that post in the U.S., means she worked hard to break the legal glass ceiling.

Also did you wonder what the other eight women AGs thought when they heard your remarks? 

3. You are the President of the United States, for Pete’s sake.

You are also the father of two girls, whom you want to grow up and be as accomplished as their lawyer mother, and you want them to be judged on their merits, not on their perkiness or cuteness. As the President of this country, you are also supposed to set a tone by what you say. Words have consequences. You are the leader of the free world, trying to move the world’s women out of the shadows of discrimination and into economic equality to give the world stability, so it is painful to watch you slip into male chauvinist rhetoric of the last century.

So, yes, the criticism of your falling into the trap of “boys will be boys, especially around girls” is justified. I suspect you heard harsher criticism from the women in your family about your remarks than any of the incoming verbal missiles. As we tell our kids, Mr. President, “Take it as a learning experience.”


To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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