Today saw not one, but two politicians toss offhand comments about appearances at women involved in politics. One of those men is the chair of a South Carolina county's Republican Party, which, well, no surprise. But the other is President Barack Obama. Obama! Step it up.
In South Carolina, Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch is challenging returned-from-Argentina Republican Congressman Mark Sanford. Her brother—you may know him—briefly used South Carolina's primary as a platform to launch a presidential bid in 2008, but Colbert Busch's campaign is real; she's a former maritime executive who's also pushed for wind power in the state.
"Everybody is really concerned," said Jerry Hallman, chairman of South Carolina's Beaufort County Republican Party, "because she's not a bad-looking lady." He also noted that she's a "good speaker" and has "got some money."
Hallman has plenty of reasons to be concerned, but Colbert Busch's radiant smile should be the least of his concerns. He should be concerned because his candidate, Mark Sanford, is best known as the guy was censured by a state ethics commission for spending public money to go AWOL from office for a steamy romantic week in Argentina. Oh, he also tried and failed to reject stimulus funds for his state. Winning!
Then this afternoon, Obama commented on the appearance of California Attorney General Kamala Harris. "She's brilliant and she's dedicated, she's tough," he said. "She also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general."
Obama's trying to be nice. He's just making a lighthearted joke. But the comment is annoying because it adds another sand grain to the mountain of scrutiny that female leaders endure. When she's ordering around lawyers in Sacramento, Harris shouldn't have to be worried about the whether she's looking good that day—Obama's joke reveals that, yep, at the back of their mind, everyone in the room is really thinking about how her pantsuit looks.
Update! Obama phoned Harris on Thursday night to apologize.
Photo of Kamala Harris via Wikipedia.