We suck all the marrow out of our politicians and then wonder why they come off so universally wooden and timid and scripted.
The most recent case on point - an off-hand remark by President Barack Obama at a private fundraiser in San Francisco that Kamala Harris "also happens to be the best-looking attorney general in the country" has created a stir among the chattering classes - mostly newspaper reporters and TV pundits. Regular Americans, I suspect, could care less.
Under the headline "Flirter in chief," Fox News reports that the president, a friend and long time political ally of Harris, called her to apologize for the remark. Please! Where else in the world do men have to apologize for calling a good looking women good looking?
California happens to be home to two exceptionally beautiful women in high office - Harris, who undoubtedly is, as the president said, "the best looking attorney general in the country," and Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.
Some may recall the hubbub that Assemblyman Chuck Calderon created a year or so ago when he alluded to Cantil-Sakauye's appearance in an Assembly floor speech. "It isn't...is she attractive" the clueless Calderon sputtered, "Cause she is."
Unlike Harris, the chief justice did take offense. That may have been because at the moment he uttered his fateful words regarding Cantil-Sakauye's appearance, Calderon was pushing legislation that would have stripped the chief justice of her power.
There seems to be a double standard. Endless stories have been written and reams of newsprint consumed on the subject of California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom's handsome profile. One news article called him "blindingly handsome." But I don't recall any one getting huffy about it or being accused of sexism or even asking him if he were offended.
And it goes beyond politicians. Ordinary men I talk to about this tell me they feel constrained at the office, afraid of offering even the most common place compliments to their female co-workers.
This, I think, is one of those instances when the "media" really is to blame. We tend to highlight the "oops" moments, blowing them way out of proportion. "Flirter in chief?" - give me a break.
President Barack Obama walks with California Attorney General Kamala Harris, center, and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, after arriving at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)