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Did Barack Obama re-open 'sweetiegate' in Unity?

Among the concerns some of Hillary Clinton female backers have with Barack Obama is the perception that he can slide into misogynist comments at the blink of an eye. And as we mentioned in an earlier post today, he made an odd, unplanned comment about women and heels during his Unity moment of rapprochement with Clinton. (The Swamp looks at Obama and John McCain on women's rights.)

This is from the transcript of the appearance: "[B]ecause of the campaign that Hillary Clinton waged, my daughters and all of your daughters will forever know that there is no barrier to who they are and what they can be in the United States of America. They can take for granted that women can do anything that the boys can do (cheers begin) -- and do it better, and do it in heels. I still (Obama laughs) --  I still don't know how she does it in heels."

Clinton laughed with him, but for a guy with some pretty good political instincts -- or who has at least hired people with good political instincts -- it was an odd verbal cul de sac to turn into. Remember, Obama caught some serious flak a few weeks back by dismissing a Michigan television reporter with a "sweetie." And he was criticized during a debate performance for another off-the-cuff comment about Clinton being "likable enough." Now he falls into the faux-joke of expressing amazement that a woman can outperform a man despite wearing heels.

That's not likely to go very far in mending fences with women already suspicious of him.

UPDATE: Tommy Vietor, Obama spokesman, says via e-mail that although Obama didn't cite Ann Richards, that was the genesis of his comment: "Sen. Obama was referencing Ann Richards' famous quote: 'Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.' Certainly Gov. Richards didn't mean [to] make that comment, as you described, as a 'faux-joke of expressing amazement that a woman can outperform a man despite wearing heels,' and it's disappointing that you'd draw that cynical conclusion."

Fair enough. But Vietor -- like many posters below -- missed the point of the blog item. For a candidate with past troubles with off-the-cuff comments on gender, it struck us as an odd comment. Some took offense; many did not (read the comments for a rather scathing discussion). Remember, this is a political blog, where we write about the political implications of campaign events and appearances.

-- Scott Martelle

Comments () | Archives (189)

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Astoundingly slow news day, I see.

It's almost frightening that someone sees an issue in this.

Can we please, please, please retire the suffix "-gate" from public discourse? Please. It was part of the name of a hotel, it has no other significance. No more "zippergate", "sweetiegate", "nannygate", "whitewatergate". No more! I beg you!

-Also, I'm a young, fairly stylish woman and I don't know how anyone does anything in heels. They frickin' hurt.

If you want to report on misogyny, try looking at some of McCain's off-the-cuff comments to his wife.

Scott, if you are really a reporter, could you please be looking for real news rather than trying to incite a false conflict. Try doing some investigative journalism, possible looking at corruption, fraud, waste, mismanagement, inequalities. I know this would mean youhave to get out from behind your computer, do some real research.

Why does this kind of junk commentary pass for news? It saddens me because we really deserve better.

Somebody fire this writer. This is absolutely ridiculous! The guy (Obama) was obviously trying to pay Hillary a complement, and you have the audacity to try and construe it as some sort of misogynist comment. Give me a break. You need to get away from your computer, go on a hike, and maybe rethink your career.

Does nobody get the reference? Ginger Rogers was described as having to do "everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels". Obama is guilty of, at most, a Dennis Miller joke which (apparently) only a few people got.

Oh come on. He obviously was thinking of the famous comment about Ginger Rogers: "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels."

Where's the insult in that??

Get a life.

Are you kidding me? What a facile, shallow, brainless, childish, bourgeois, milquetoast, nutless, tasteless, insipid, whiny, puny, gutless, lifeless response to a comment someone made as a compliment. You want to combat misogyny? Try working to oppose clitorectomies in Africa. Travel to Afghanistan and champion women's rights there on the street, where you have to expose yourself to opposition, rather than hide behind a silk curtain of hypocritical political correctness. The wave of hypersensitivity which has allowed so-called caring individuals to act as puerile hall monitors of the speech of everyone else is as warm, fragrant, and useless as a pool of warm spit. You make me sick.

I'm glad that, so far, it seems like the people leaving comments aren't falling for these provocative 'news' stories. Let us move on and talk about real issues. If there is no news, then don't make news out of nothing.

If that's the case...I stubbed my toe today. Let's talk about how many times Obama has stubbed his toe in the last year. I can relate to that...maybe I will vote for him because of that.

What? You've never heard that before? The whole point of the comment is to show he understands that women in the working world often carry more burdens than their male counterparts. I can't see how anyone would be offended by this. I bet, if anything, it resonated with the Hillary crowd.

i think his comment shows empathy. feminists HATE heels because they are a symbol of patriarchy and how men force women to conform in a male dominated society.

scott, you are clearly confused...

A woman who sometimes wears heels told me many years ago that women can wear heels comfortably because their hips connect to their spines in a different way than men's. Is true?

GOOD LORD quit trying to turn women against Obama. It was not disrespectful in any way. And guess what - WOMEN WEAR HEELS! Seriously, they do!

She is doing it heels and that is totally amazing. This is a such a non story.

Let me echo the 'oh, come on' remarks above, and just say that I think it's amazing we women can do as much as we can while wearing heels. I mean, it's ridiculous how much your feet can hurt in heels when you're stuck doing a lot of walking or standing (both of which political candidates can't escape when giving speeches, shaking hands, working a crowd or a room) so if Hillary really has been doing her campaigning in heels instead of flats, then I'm a little amazed, too.

If anything, Obama is referencing a great quote about Ginger Rogers- she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels. It's a *compliment* not an insult to us women, and since most men don't even notice, then I'd say that, if it means anything at all, it shows Obama is a sympathetic guy.

Personally I think anyone who adds the suffix "-gate" to any term needs to be hauled off and shot.

Enough already with that garbage. It's old, it's tired and unoriginal.

Personally I find Obama's remark funny, especially when you look at Hillary's cankles.

Anyone Hillary's age would remember the quote misattributed to Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did BACKWARDS in high heels. It's a compliment!! Grow up!

Oh, c'mon. Obama's comment is clearly a reference to a popular line about Adele Astaire: She did everything Fred did, and she did it backwards and in heels!

To me, it sounded like a compliment. From what I hear, heels are uncomfortable, make the muscles sore from putting the feet into an unnatural position, and are a challenge for balance. I seem to recall numerous public speeches from women over the years mentioning being able to do as well as men while wearing heels. It is akin to saying, "She can do that with one hand tied behind her back."

Would you rather he imply that a full-grown woman cannot outsmart a boy? I mean, pretty much there's no way to talk about this issue without someone taking offense to it. Clearly Obama believes that women are just as capable as men, note how a woman nearly beat him in the primary. I think you would have to talk to a major fossil idiot to find someone who really things that women are not equally capable as men.

Barack Obama is merely paraphrasing Ginger Rogers in response to a stupid question that was posed to her over 50 years ago: A reporter asked what it was like dancing with such a gifted dancer as Fred Astaire?
Rogers replied with the quote: I can do everything that he can do - backwards and in heels!

Is this really the Los Angelas Times? This story is completely contrived. No rational person would take this off the cuff remark, intended for a brief chuckle, as anything more than just that. I think Scott Martelle should try actually being a journalist and report some real news instead of trying to create controversy where there clearly is none. Or at the very least, Scott, perhaps you should leave it up to actual women to decide whether something offends them or not.

I don't understand why women are so sensitive. If anything this is a compliment. It just goes to show.....

I can't decide if this is jawdroppingly absurd or mindnumbingly irrelevant. Since Mr. Martelle only managed to disgorge a few paragraphs, I will go with mindnumbing. Seriously, this is awful. When did the LA Times become Extra! for Politics?

Scott is obviously and idiot, uniformed, Obama hater.

Obama paid Hillary the ultimate compliment by comparing her to the fantastic Ginger Rogers, who labored in the shadows while Fred Astaire got top billing as the greatest dancer the human race has ever produced. Ms. Rogers in her biography pointed out that while Fred was the best male dancer on the planet and in Hollywood , as his partner she matched his every move "backwards while in high heels".

There is no higher compliment an intelligent man can pay a women. Please LA times hire writers who at least know the history of the industry that defines your town.

Ginger Rogers, Astaire's longtime dance partner, passed away in 1995. Rogers is often quoted as having said, "I did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels." Their partnership lasted sixteen years, from 1933 to 1949.

Jim Hare

I agree with the previous comments. Obama's comments about doing what Hillary does in heels is a compliment and it is in no way a sexist remark. This hyper-micro examination of every candidates' words in the attempt to find gaffes where none exist is tiresome. And even if slight gaffes are made, we must realize that candidates are human beings just like us and we all make the occasional verbal mistake, for cripes sake! Barack Obama is an exceedingly intelligent, well educated and superbly well informed man and he is prepared to be our President.

Scott, you ignorant slut.

I think Obama's comment borrows from an old one, "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and wearing high heels." I'm a Hillary supporter so I'm not making any excuses for Obama and this remark, however, the way I'm reading it points me to this reference rather than to questioning his respect for women. In fact, if you think about the GInger Rogers comment, you quickly realize that her accomplishment was more difficult -- backwards and high heels!!!

John forgets or never understood that the LA Times now resorts to "bloggers" such as Scott as a reaction to readers' willingness to consume unedited knee-jerk garbage instead of actual journalism. Maybe the traditional media brought it on themselves, but it's disinginuous to go back and criticize them for publishing this sort of nonsense that he for some reason claims to prefer.

This story is utterly pathetic. Not only did you not do your research to see that's obviously a reference to a famous feminist quote, but even if it wasn't, big freaking deal. You look for any excuse to throw the word sexism around it's utterly pathetic and disgusting. Move to Iran if you want to see what sexism truly is. Sweetie. t(-_-t)

And you are qualified to predict what will bother women voters? I am a woman voter - middle aged professional, used-to-be Republican voter who is firmly behind Barack Obama and have been since day 1. This is a trumped-up miniscule gotcha that only serves to feed the ridiculous feeding machine manufactured by people such as yourself. I'm not a Hillary fan, but I also give her kudos for doing what she did in heels. I'd like to see you try it.

Why cant men wear heels!? What a sexist PIG!!

4113 women and men wearing combat heeLs are dead and this dumb arse is talkin' up sweetiegate. Pleaseeeee lets talk issues.

Hasn't anyone ever heard the quote: "Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels!" Maybe he took a cue from that. I believe it's actually a comment toward woman, saying that not only can we do what men do, but we can do it while balancing precariously on our stilettos...

Um, keep in mind that NO president is going to be all things to all men, or women. Besides, the president is limited in his powers, and he is free to hold his own personal views. The man is still a man, unless we want some kind of mirror reflection of our own prejudices and low-brow opinions- then we might as well create an animatronic thingy.

clearly it was a compliment that a woman could be every bit as successful as a man while retaining feminine qualities.

The point being that it's no surprise that a woman can attain any level of achievement by essentially sacrificing the gender out of her personality and adopting typical behavior patterns of a male. Obama's compliment to Hillary says that he believes she retains her character as a refined woman while simultaneously achieving great things.

It's a nice thing to say to endear himself to independent-minded women voters. In Hillary's case he cant possibly be sincere though. In my opinion she has sacrificed all trace of female or male decency out of her character becoming a pure political animal which may not even be human.

give me a break! i'm a woman and i found the comment entertaining. does hillary wear heels? yes. does obama? no. is it harder to do things in heels than in flat shoes? yes. why is that a sexist comment? i am a 26-year-old female professor who wasn't even taught that i could do everything a male could do - it was simply a given and so didn't need to be explicitly taught. and i happen to like wearing heels. so do a lot of women. i don't know many men who like to wear heels. unless they're a little on the short side. so what?

Scott, Scott, Scott. It's Friday, you're probably bored, lonely, and looking to make a personal connection (some human contact). You have succeeded. Now, please, give daddy the pc and take a nap like a nice young man.

Obama certainly has other more serious criticisms/problems to worry about, such as daily about-face on just about any issue you care to name.

It's all about Obama all the time. What a jerk. King of hypocricy, probably a crook too (see Boston Globe's article today).


I believe Obama was riffing on a comment made long ago about Ginger Rogers--that she did everything her dance partner Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in heels. Just as her dancing was more difficult than his, a woman's quest for the White House is more difficult that is a man's. So, bottom line, settle youself down. It's nothing more than an acknowledgement of the difficulties women in this country face.

Your comment is exactly 180 degrees off target. Texas Governor Ann Richards who gave a very memorable keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 1988. She famously said "If you give us the chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." Clinton knows that quote - you don't.

Gov of Michigan took out her heels showed it to the crowd and spoke proudly of how much 'first women' have accomplished on heels. Being a guy, it had never occurred to me that political success requires a lot of walking around and someone wearing heels could take more wear and tear than someone wearing flat shoes. I too marvel at the amount of travelling Hillary has done on heels. So it is ok if a gal talks about doing it in heels and if a guy says the same thing, it is sexist!

And you are qualified to predict what will bother women voters? I am a woman voter - middle aged professional, used-to-be Republican voter who is firmly behind Barack Obama and have been since day 1. This is a trumped-up miniscule gotcha that only serves to feed the ridiculous feeding machine manufactured by people such as yourself. I'm not a Hillary fan, but I also give her kudos for doing what she did in heels. I'd like to see you try it.

You're kidding me right? Has anybody looked up McCain's record on women's issues? Those are the issues this column should be writing about - instead of a making a big deal about a non-comment like this one. I can't believe people get paid for this.

Saying that women can do all the things the boys can do, even in heels is like saying, "he can kick your butt with one hand tied behind his back". It's a compliment. The general perception among men, women, boys and girls is that it's more difficult to walk in heels than to walk in regular footwear.

Scott, you're probably wearing heels right now, and you were probably wearing them when you wrote this lame article. I don't mind, and I'm sure nobody minds what you wear, but just because your feet may be a little cramped or uncomfortable, that gives you no excuse to take it out on us LAT readers. Lighten up, take your heels off .... they're putting pressure on your brain.

Give me a break. This is the stuff to get upset about now? The GOP minded bloggers are getting desperate in trying to find anything bad to say about Obama. To us living in the real world, the comment was a friendly poke at Hillary, and nothing to be upset about. There are a million important issues at stake in the elections, analyze them for a change.

What a moronic observation.

Lets make something out of nothing why don't we.

Are you serious? Shame on Scott Martelle and the LAT for this article.

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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