No one is going to stop me from speaking the truth to power, and here’s a truth about power that a lot of people can’t handle: the attorney general of California is hot. Very hot.
But when the most powerful man in the world spoke the same truth last week about Kamala Harris—our “best-looking attorney general,” he called her—critics called him sexist, inappropriate, and wolfish.
Predictably, President Obama called Harris to apologize and have what spokespeople called a “great conversation.” But I, for one, wish the president hadn’t backed down. Yes, the kind of comment Obama made is more than a little sexist in normal professional situations. But California politics isn’t normal.
When was the last time a California elected official was praised, in public, for anything? Rather than treat Obama’s compliment as an insult, Harris and all Californians should savor it. Maybe even hold a victory parade.
Running for office in this state—with its giant regions, weak political parties, and lack of civic engagement—is almost entirely about getting on TV. If you want to be on the news, you have to compete with knockout starlets who crashed their cars on the Pacific Coast Highway last night. You think Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor solely because of their ideas?
Heck, today’s California elected officials, stripped of so much of their discretion by the constitution, the courts, and the voters, have very little to do but look good. Plus they have to raise money. Of course our attorney general is easy on the eyes. Of course our lieutenant governor is married to a Hollywood actress. Of course septuagenarian Jerry Brown, who looks not a day over 60, was fetching enough to attract Linda Ronstadt in the ’70s.
When you think about it, our politicians are so hot it’s worrisome. Look around the world, and beautiful politicians tend to spell bad governance. Venezuela has elected more than its share of beauty queens. Italy has picked a steady stream of model-and-actor legislators. In Russia, some of Vladimir Putin’s associates are so dazzling you’d barely notice they were dismantling the rule of law.
Unsettled by this thought, I decided to fact-check Obama’s claim. Is California really in that sort of trouble? Well, maybe. To be sure, as I learned from the website of the National Association of Attorneys General, our nation’s state attorneys general are a handsome bunch. The blue eyes of Chris Koster of Missouri are mesmerizing, for instance. But I’m both proud and worried to say that Kamala is still number-one.
Meanwhile, why is our president ogling our a.g. at a San Francisco fundraiser when his visits here might be spent trying to figure out how to help America’s largest public university systems or the inland Central Valley, where the unemployment rate is still pushing 20 percent?
But it may be too much to expect that kind of thing from Obama. Like most politicians these days, he’s just another pretty face.
Joe Mathews wrote this Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square.