If one result of the Democratic primary is that the country is going to speed right by the perceived need to atone for its sexist past and deal with the more urgent problem of atoning for racism, a side effect will be that those concerned with sexism will feel slighted, maybe even a little bitter. This has been made pretty clear from comments by Hillary Clinton and some of her supporters, and now Susan Estrich ups the ante, playing the sweetie card:
In case you missed the latest, Senator Obama responded to a Detroit reporter asking him a question about his plans for economically depressed Michigan workers by dismissing her as "sweetie."
"Senator," asked Peggy Agar, " how are you going to help the American autoworkers?"
"Hold on a second, sweetie. We'll hold a press avail," Obama replied, putting her off until a later press conference.
"That's a bad habit of mine," Obama said in a voicemail message he left for the reporter some hours later. "I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front."
It was not Senator Obama's first public "sweetie." Earlier in the campaign, Obama said to a woman, "Sweetie, if I start with a picture I will never get out of here." And: "Sweetie if I start doing autographs I just won't be ... I am really late."
Agar, reached for comment later, said she'd been called worse things. Who hasn't? It's no big deal. I call people "sweetie" myself, although I usually reserve it for people I know.
I usually reserve it for people I know, too, and I have a dearth of office sweeties right now -- women I feel comfortable with and who feel comfortaqle with me, with whom I can say anything and who can say anything to me. I'm now down to one sweetie at work and one in Fort Wayne whom I used to work with. The rest have fled Fort Wayne, and long-range sweetiness is no more satisfying than long-range romance.
"Public" sweetiness is more a problem for women than for men. I get annoyed (and a lot of other men do, too) at being called "Honey" by waitresses we've never met before. But that's just a minor irritant compared to what most men mean when they use private terms of endearment as a way to address woemn in general. It's a power thing, and Obama isn't going to get a pass just because he might have been a victim of the power thing, too. He says he "means no disrespect" and is "duly chastened," but this won't go away that easily. It adds to his image of being aloof and condescending.