“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she 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. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It's true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”You can't make it up.
The most comical aspect of this "scandal" is that Barack Obama said these things because he wanted to be even nicer and even more politically correct than some people around him. But too much political correctness, much like too little political correctness and a medium amount of political correctness, may turn out to be politically incorrect.
Let me elaborate on my claim that he actually wanted to be more Catholic than the Pope. Including the things in between the lines, Obama meant the following:
“While your experience certainly suggests that there are fewer extraordinarily talented lawyers displaying a natural authority between women than between men and some extra trouble may arise when relatively young women face difficult tasks, you have to be careful in this case. First of all, she is brilliant. Second of all, she is dedicated and third of all, 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. Although her ethnic background – she is an Asian Indian American – may look more crazy than mine, she also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It's true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”Now, because Obama called her "best-looking AG", he is considered sexist. PC is tough and treacherous. It is – more precisely the people driving it are – so insane that you just can't ever know where and when it strikes.
In the competition of old men, it's not a shocking fact that Kamala Harris is the best-looking U.S. attorney general. We should still be careful because the adjective "best-looking" is subjective. In particular, there may be a bias because heterosexual male subjects are more likely to consider women good-looking while the ordering is reversed for homosexual subjects and it may be reverted for female subjects once again.
Despite this subjective nature of the "good-looking" adjective, I think that there could be some neutral, asexual, consensus-based evaluation of who is good-looking and Kamala Harris could still win in this particular race.
May a woman get offended in such a context? Well, the only woman who has at least some remote reasons to be offended by the comment above is Michelle Obama. But as long as a possible romance between Obama and Harris will remain invisible, even Michelle Obama should be doing fine. Otherwise women – whether they're attorney generals or not – care about their looks and Kamala Harris is demonstrably not an exception. So chances are high that she was flattered.
On the contrary, she could be – and she should be – insulted and hurt by the comments that Obama's appraisal was sexist. Why? Because the people who say that Obama's judgement was sexist implicitly claim that he only said that she was best-looking because she was a woman – i.e. because of her female organs – while the official reason behind Obama's statement is that she is a pretty woman – or, I could even say, because she is a pretty person.
The public/media reactions to these things is substantially different in my country. Thank God. Let me mention an example.
The official billboard of Public Affairs, a small Prague-based centrist party, now defunct. It said "Release the boys into the water: vote for our girls." Ms Karolína Peake is the second babe from the right. She survived the death of the Public Affairs and created an even smaller would-be party, LIDEM (Liberal Democracy; the acronym also means "to the people"), that helped to save the center-right government in one of the no-confidence votes.
A few months ago, PM Petr Nečas proposed her as the next defense minister. President Klaus made it clear that this would be a problem with him. He smiled and said that he really, but really couldn't "imagine how the sturdy soldiers would accept this little girl as their commander". Of course, there wasn't a sign of a genuine opposition to Klaus' remarks. Pretty much everyone thinks that he was right and/or made an important point. One can play various games but the soldiers still have some values, opinions, and priorities, and if their motivation to follow orders and fight for the country gets diminished by something, the safety of the country may be at risk. These are serious matters that should never be beaten by infantile politically correct speech codes. (That's also why I think it's unwise to insist on flooding the military by 4% of proud and loud gays – and similar things.) And it's much simpler – and more democratic! – to choose a minister who will be acceptable for the soldiers than to try to "reeducate" the soldiers.
I was in agreement with Klaus despite the fact that I consider her a sort of talented politician - a Western-style modern politician, not the kind of politicians I would enthusiastically vote for, but I think she would score well in some global competition. (Incidentally, her husband, Charles Peake, is an Australian manager of Czech-Chinese origin. Her maiden name, Kvačková, is as Czech as you can get.)
"Release us to the water here." A center-right ODS party's answer to the girls' billboard.
The current president, Miloš Zeman, was in somewhat hotter water for his witticism during the presidential campaign. He was suggesting that his competitor, Prince Schwarzenberg, came from a degenerated dynasty (Schwarzenberg reacted pleasantly: this comment made Schwarzenberg younger because it reminded him of the 1950s when the princes were labeled "degenerated" as well). But Zeman – which means a member of lower, countryside-based nobility, gentry – added a much more detailed explanation why Zeman was less degenerated than the Prince. Centuries ago, Princes enjoyed the "right of the first night" (it's probably a superstition, but let's ignore it) so they had the right to terminate the virginity of their serfs' maiden daughters. This made their sexual life simpler which is why (according to Zeman's modified genetics) they got degenerated. On the contrary, "Zemen" had to rape the girls they had crush on. They needed to spend energy and train for that etc. So with this training, they didn't degenerate.
Even I could guess that this was a potentially tough, marginally perverse joke and there were several feminists who tried to say it was bad. But these feminists are so totally marginal in our society that it would be silly to talk about any real scandal. There wasn't any. It's just a joke cleverly built on Schwarzenberg's aristocratic origin and Zeman's surname.
Even those of us in Czechia who sometimes consider ourselves "socially conservative" often view Americans as similarly puritanical, controlled by taboos and medieval speech codes as the people in the Muslim countries look to the Americans. In some situations, the difference between Americans and the fundamentalist Muslims is actually rather modest and the "liberals", despite their being left-wing, tend to make this proximity even more self-evident.
If America can't protect people like Obama from blackmailing, libels, and intimidation by insane folks such as those who think that he was "sexist", i.e. from pressure that forbids to say certain things in practice, then its constitution along with the amendments are de facto just pieces of a dirty toilet paper.