Is there such a thing as presidential privilege?
As in, can Barack Obama get away with calling Kamala Harris the "best-looking attorney-general in the country"?
Judging by reactions on Twitter and various news blogs, the answer is a resounding "oh no he didn't."
The remark was made at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser Thursday in Atherton, Calif., where the U.S. President gave a speech that sounded more like an opening monologue than official business.
The White House made the transcript available, which the AtlanticWire has published, setting it in a pale lavender text box and punctuating it with the crowd's laughter and applause.
Obama's comment about Harris (who, until yesterday, made headlines for her handling of state issues, not her appearance) appears five paragraphs in, once he has acknowledged her as "brilliant" and "dedicated" and "exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake."
And then he basically stopped just short of calling her hot.
On one hand, this could be interpreted as a casual compliment, nothing more than an off-script attempt to sound personable to his audience.
But imagine if the tables were turned and Harris gushed that Obama is the "most handsome leader of the free world" after commending him on his health-care reform plans. Bring on the flak.
Today, professional pundits and those who fill the social media peanut gallery pounce at any comment that isn't strictly politically correct, and those reactions travel fast. Just take a glance at Salon's Twitter highlight reel.
So how much of this is unnecessary squawking?
It's true that there remains a sexist undertone to the President's remark – one that isn't entirely without precedent.
And pity, too, all the other attorneys-general who now know that, in the President's eye, their looks don't make as strong as impression.
Meanwhile, first lady Michelle Obama had her own speech misstep Thursday when she referred to herself as a "single mother" before quickly retracing with "or, I shouldn't say single – as a busy mother."
She then further explained: "You know, when you've got the husband who's president, it can feel a little single, but he's there."
Which is to say, he's not out making passes at hot attorneys-general.