President Obama's 'sexist' comments confound critics, supporters


California Attorney General Kamala Harris speaks to reporters after California Governor Jerry Brown signed the California Homeowner Bill of Rights (AB 278 and SB 900) on July 11, 2012 in San Francisco, California.


Justin Sullivan

President Obama's comments about Kamala Harris were, at best, misguided yet innocent. At worst, they were hypocritical and sexist.

However, at their core they were perhaps just plain confusing to the pundits, hacks and talking heads of American politics. 

Media reaction to the president's perceived "sexist" comments have come from all corners, but not necessarily as you might predict.

There are conservatives jumping to his defense while women's rights campaigners accuse him of "piling on."

Obama put his foot in his mouth on Thursday at a fundraiser in California. The president called Harris “brilliant, and she is dedicated and she is tough,” before suggesting “she also happens to be, by far, the best looking attorney general in the country.”

Through Press Secretary Jay Carney on Friday, Obama apologized for the comments.

“He fully recognizes the challenge women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance,” Carney said.

Harris, who has known Obama for a long time, apparently accepted his apology.

That, however, isn't the end of the story.

MSNBC political columnist Joan Walsh, whom some describe as liberal, suggested Obama should know better.

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"I assume he thought he was just paying someone he admires a compliment," Walsh wrote at Salon.com. "But most women in public life have a complex relationship with their appearance, whether they’re as attractive as Harris or not."

Self-described conservative Eric Goulb said the comments "forced" him to defend the president.

"Restoring a modicum of integrity and sanity to this world requires it," he writes in the Washington Times. "In fact, Obama’s 'ogling' actually goes a tiny way toward rebutting a major criticism of him. Android computers lacking human emotion are incapable of lust, so Obama may be human."

CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette Jr. said the president should be glad he doesn't do something people care about, like announce sports.

He reminded us all of Brent Musburger's ham-fisted comments about Katherine Webb during the US college football championship earlier this year.

Musburger droned on about how attractive he found Webb, a former Miss Alabama cheering in the stands for her boyfriend, quarterback AJ McCarron.

ESPN apologized as Musburger took heat from all corners for his "weird and creepy" comments.

"By contrast, Obama isn't catching much criticism," Navarrette wrote, implying the president deserves more.

"This is how you talk about a colleague, a fellow elected official, a fellow lawyer with the goods to compete head to head with any man in the country?"

New York Magazine's Dan Amira tried to explain is as Obama's "tic." Earlier this year, Obama welcomed the NHL champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House, all of them "good looking" without their playoff beards, Amira wrote.

"In short, Obama is an equal-opportunity flatterer, not a shallow, sexist pig. Calling people 'good-looking' — men, women, Penguins — is just something he does."