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Sweetie-gate

Barack Obama has a “bad habit” of addressing “all kinds of people” as “Sweetie” in casual conversation, although he’s trying to quit.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama has apologized to WXYZ reporter Peggy Agar for calling her “sweetie” during a campaign stop Wednesday in Sterling Heights.

Obama apologized in a voicemail he left on Agar’s cell phone at 3:16 p.m:

“Hi Peggy. This is Barack Obama. I’m calling to apologize on two fronts. One was you didn’t get your question answered and I apologize. I thought that we had set up interviews with all the local stations. I guess we got it with your station but you weren’t the reporter that got the interview. And so, I broke my word. I apologize for that and I will make up for it.

“Second apology is for using the word ‘sweetie.’ That’s a bad habit of mine. I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front. Feel free to call me back. I expect that my press team will be happy to try to make it up to you whenever we are in Detroit next.”

Here’s a video of the incident:

My initial reaction to this is bemusement that a journalist would truly be offended by being referred to as “Sweetie.” I mean, sure, it’s gender specific and he wouldn’t call a male reporter “Sweetie,” but it’s not exactly disparaging. And maybe he calls the guys “Slick” or something.

A quick perusal of the chickosphere, though, leads me to believe this is a bigger deal than that. BDBlue snarks:

Yeah, this guy is going to wear really well for another six months. Let’s see, he’s insulted white working class voters, lectured pro-choice forces on about how they don’t understand the moral choices of abortion, and now for the second time, he’s called a woman he doesn’t know “sweetie.” I’d say not only is Obama not asking for my vote, he’s going out of his way to make sure he doesn’t get it.

She also guesses Obama wouldn’t call Mike Tyson, “Sweetie.” (Insert prison joke here.)

Ann Althouse wonders if he’ll address Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in that manner. While it would be rather amusing, I’m guessing she’s right as to the implied answer of her rhetorical question.

Kate Harding, who Obama probably would call “Sweetie” if he weren’t giving that habit up, is likewise unimpressed, entitling her post “Tell Me He Did Not Really Say This.” Sorry, Sweetie, he did.

Many dudes are weighing in on this one, too. Matt Bastard (which I’m guessing is a pseudonym) appears to have a degree in Women’s Studies.

Jesus tapdancing Christ. You wanna know how to better help make the case that you deserve the support of women? Step 1: DON’T BE A SEXIST ASSHAT.

Look, intent is irrelevant—habitually using reductive terms like “sweetie’ is both disrespectful and indicative that Obama may have a bigger problem with women than simply not getting their votes, regardless of whether his actions are conscious or otherwise. Not to say that this sort of thing is unique (gee, a man says something misogynistic and dismissive to a woman—film at 11!), nor is it definitive proof that Obama actively perpetuates misogyny (does anyone seriously think that Geraldine Ferraro burns crosses in her free time?)

AllahPundit thinks Obama’s main mistake was “dropp[ing] this on the one member of the media who wouldn’t coo and squeal like an infant at being addressed by him this way.” He incorrectly predicts that the Left will ignore Obama’s comments, even though they’d be all over John McCain if he’d done this.

Robert Farley observes that he couldn’t get away with doing this as a teacher.

When I say that I would face sanction for calling a woman “sweetie” in class, I’m dead serious; even if the woman weren’t offended, it would still be inappropriate and reflect a poor classroom environment. This isn’t dread “political correctness”. “Sweetie” is belittling in a way that “buddy” really isn’t, and it really shouldn’t be used in any kind of professional setting, except perhaps between those who are exceptionally familiar.

Jules Crittenden ain’t buying it but nonetheless thinks turnabout is fair play.

[W]hen you think about it, if everyone else is getting whacked for being racist on Obama no matter what they say, he might as well just take the sexist hit like a man.

Of course, the phrase “like a man” is considered sexist, too. Although maybe Jules is thinking of the ironic song of that name by Confederate Railroad. Or just being sarcastic. Who knows these days?

Frank James tries to figure Obama’s angle.

Was it an attempt by the Democratic presidential candidate to show his affinity for blue-collar folks by attempting to sound like a waitress at a diner?

In the same vein, was he trying for a little machismo in front of the male workers at a Sterling, Michigan auto manufacturing plant he visited today?

Needless to say, a lot of women and even some men aren’t going to like it. Some will interpret it as Obama being dismissive to the point of being somewhat sexist.

Apparently.

On yesterday’s installment of OTB Radio, Dodd Harris argued that the Democrats may well have buyers’ remorse at the end of this process, wishing they’d nominated Hillary Clinton instead. Why? Incidents like this. For all Obama’s brains, charm, and charisma, he’s still a rookie on the national stage. As he continues to wear down from the longest, most grueling presidential campaign in American history, we’re likely to see more of this.

I continue to wonder whether any of this will matter in the end, though. The GOP brand is in its worst shape since Watergate and John McCain isn’t exactly Ronald Reagan. Then again, it’s increasingly clear that Obama isn’t exactly Jack Kennedy, either.

___________

A tangential aside: Almost every account of this I’ve seen has it as “sweetie” rather than “Sweetie.” But isn’t Obama using it as a nickname rather than a descriptive? He’s not saying, “You sure are a sweetie” but rather using “Sweetie” as a substitute for a proper noun. Shouldn’t it therefore be rendered in the upper case?

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    If this is the worst they can throw at him, Obama must be more electable than I thought. “Sweetie”, “Hon”, “Darling” are things that both sexes throw at each other pretty commonly here in the midwest. It’s not really a sexist thing at all.

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  2. LaurenceB says:

    Also, Jeremiah Wright doesn’t wear a flag pin.

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  3. Mithras says:

    Wow, 500 words and 5 quotes on 1 non-issue. You really have too much time on your hands.

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  4. Anderson says:

    I’ve embarrassed myself a couple of times calling a woman “sugar” (or, I suppose, “Sugar”), because that’s what I call my wife much of the time, and my brain thinks that if I’m talking to a woman, it’s probably my wife & that’s what I should call her.

    So much for my plans to run for president.

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  5. c. wagener says:

    I look forward to “Sweetie’s” victim tour followed by a Playboy spread.

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  6. Boyd says:

    Sexist? Misogynist? Puh-leeze!

    Listen, I believe that we should keep this BO as far away from the levers of power as possible, but the protests over this sound more like projection than principle to me.

    Disclaimer: As a good ol’ Texas boy, I tend to call women and girls “Darlin’.” There’s a hell of a lot more respect than disrespect in that habit. Anyone who can’t see that just doesn’t understand my culture. And they need to respect my culture.

    Ahem.

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  7. Dodd says:

    A quick perusal of the chickosphere

    You use this term but you don’t see the problem with “sweetie”?

    Amazing! 😛

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  8. Yeah, this is a pretty common usage by both men and women to *refer to* both men and women around the south. I’m more than a little surprised that it’s even newsworthy.

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  9. Michael says:

    “Sweetie”, “Hon”, “Darling” are things that both sexes throw at each other pretty commonly here in the midwest.

    Heck, that’s practically a formal title here in the south. If it’s not somebody you’re on a first-name basis with, those are the names you use in friendly conversation. Things like “Ma’am” are reserved for people you consider your senior (or somebody with authority over you, even if not your senior), and it’s generally rude to call people old.

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  10. […] deal? Not really. With this man, nothing sticks. And I do not quite see how this remark can be enough for someone […]

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  11. Triumph says:

    For all Obama’s brains, charm, and charisma, he’s still a rookie on the national stage. As he continues to wear down from the longest, most grueling presidential campaign in American history, we’re likely to see more of this.

    Great analysis. In 2000 another “rookie on the national stage” called a reporter a “major league azzhole” and won the presidency.

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  12. There will only be “buyer’s remorse” if they lose in November–which, as you note, doesn’t seem all that likely.

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  13. Bob says:

    One would think that Obama, who knows he currently has a gender problem, would have the sense to stay away from using something cutesy & potentially dismissive like this. The problem is this stuff now lives, reinforces a negative perception, and endlessly plays on Utube. Ask George Allen.

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  14. James Joyner says:

    In 2000 another “rookie on the national stage” called a reporter a “major league azzhole” and won the presidency.

    Well, he just referred to him that way and was caught on a hot mike.

    There will only be “buyer’s remorse” if they lose in November–which, as you note, doesn’t seem all that likely.

    Agreed, a point I made (independently) in a follow-up post.

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  15. dutchmarbel says:

    Wouldn’t you guys be suprised if he had called Edwards ‘sweetie’? Of if Clinton (either one) had called him ‘sweetie’?

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  16. Scott says:

    First off. I was guessing he was using it in the nice paternal way… watched the vid… hes definitely talking down to her based on gender. I don’t think it was meant to be derogatory but it so is… I read someone else’s comment that said how about we call him “boy” or something along those lines… I am pro Hillary but at this point I think Im voting for George Bush… at least then we know what we are in for.

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  17. Obama Goes from “Bitter” to “Sweetie.” Apologizes….

    What’s in a word? Plenty, Barack Obama has learned in this campaign. Don’t call Pennsylvania voters “bitter” and don’t call female reporters “sweetie.” Dare we say it’s been a bittersweet lesson?
    Bac…

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  18. Wayne says:

    “Sweeti” is a common reference in many parts of this country just like the term “boy” is used in many parts of the country without any ill intent. Of course sometime they are used with malicious intent. My question is how many of those who jump all over the congressman for using “boy” in a innocent reference is now jumping all over Obama for his “sweeti” comments and vice versa?

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  19. MsSwin says:

    Sweetie???!!! Call out the political proctologists and get this on the news 24/7 right away! Let’s make sure the media covers this important incident rather than the issues! BTW, I’d much rather have a president who has a habit of using sweetie than one who has a habit of calling his wife vulgar names. Might be a better story in why McCain, when asked a direct question about whether he did, in fact, call his wife those horrible names could not answer with a simple yes or no. Instead, the Baptist preacher asking the question was hauled off by the Secret Service.

    Thanks darlin’, you have a good day hon.

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  20. Michael says:

    Wouldn’t you guys be suprised if he had called Edwards ‘sweetie’? Of if Clinton (either one) had called him ‘sweetie’?

    It would be surprising for him to have called Edwards “sweetie” because it is generally reserved for members of the opposite sex (though it may be different of the person using the word was homosexual, I don’t know). It would be less surprising for Clinton to call Obama sweetie, especially given her time in Arkansas, and her sudden “folksy” persona.

    “Sweeti” is a common reference in many parts of this country just like the term “boy” is used in many parts of the country without any ill intent.

    The difference is that “sweetie” can be used with someone you consider a social peer, where as “boy” is generally reserved for people you consider below you socially (due to age usually, but if the target is not younger than you it implies that some other feature puts them below you).

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  21. Wayne says:

    Go back and look at my post about the congressman “scandal”. There are many examples of using the term “boy” in a non belligerent manner including “that boy is good”. The place I live at now, the term “sweetie” is use in a negative way a great deal often more than the term “boy”.

    It just boils down that the left thinks Dem can’t do anything wrong while a Republican is always wrong. Consistency in thought and judgments is not important. If it is a Republican, hang them. If a Dem, let them go.

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  22. pat says:

    Any woman can explain how seriously DEMEANING it is to be called “Sweetie” while she’s performing her professional duties. This is similar to calling a man “Sonny” under the same circumstances. I could make another analogy to a particular insult that used to be directed at black men (boy), but I don’t want to, in any way, imply that slavery was synonymous with (although it was, in certain ways, similar to) the suffering of women under a (formerly) patriarchal system. Obama’s apology found him on the verge of yet another error. If I’m not mistaken, he caught himself before he blurted out that this is what he calls his daughters. I guarantee it. The pause gave it away that he very nearly made another gaff, but he stopped himself in time. I don’t know this reporter, but I’d be willing to wager that she’s younger than he is. Obama has a bad habit (depending upon your point of view) of accidentally revealing his TRUE feelings, attitudes, and beliefs, and then making a lame apology later. That is, whenever he doesn’t catch himself before he makes the gaff in the first place. I’ve noticed this sexist attitude of his before, if only in the way that he LOOKS at his opponent. It’s very similar to the elitist attitude that he accidentally revealed towards those “bitter” voters in PA. If Hillary doesn’t make an issue of this, then she’s a bigger fool than I thought. Needless to say, I don’t support either of them.

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  23. Dodd says:

    Might be a better story in why McCain, when asked a direct question about whether he did, in fact, call his wife those horrible names could not answer with a simple yes or no. Instead, the Baptist preacher asking the question was hauled off by the Secret Service.

    Someone still believes that nonsense and hasn’t heard he was a former Biden campaign worker planted at the event and not actually a minister?!?

    Wow. So much for the Feiler Faster Thesis.

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  24. Triumph says:

    It would be surprising for him to have called Edwards “sweetie” because it is generally reserved for members of the opposite sex (though it may be different of the person using the word was homosexual, I don’t know).

    Didn’t you know? Hussein is not only muslim, but he’s also gay.

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  25. dutchmarbel says:

    The difference is that “sweetie” can be used with someone you consider a social peer, where as “boy” is generally reserved for people you consider below you socially (due to age usually, but if the target is not younger than you it implies that some other feature puts them below you).

    I agree with Pat that in a professional setting it is belittleling. It reminds me of a former (male) collegue who used Dutch equivalents when he spoke to me. I asked him not to do it and explained why. He told me that I was making a fuss about nothing and there was no demeaning aspect in what he said, I just saw things that weren’t there.

    So I decided to mirror. Every time he worded something in a way that felt wrong to me, I would answer with the same kind of word (he would say sweetie, I’d call him ‘dear’ in my answer). I only did hid when he did it, hoping that the mirroring effect might make it clear to him why he shouldn’t do it.

    A few months later I left the company and learned from our boss that he had filed a complaint at the time about how I unrespectfully I addressed him.

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  26. Hmm…, what will the proper term for my remorse be in November since I’m not buying any of it?

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  27. mq says:

    Charles, feel free to call it general remorse.

    I don’t think the issue is so much what Obama said, but how he said it. The fact that he called the reporter sweetie while also dismissing her question leaves one with the impression that he didn’t take the reporter seriously. That’s insulting. And maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s a bit presumptuous to use an endearment like sweetie when talking to someone in a professional environment and that you don’t know from Eve.

    In the end, I chalk this one to one more rookie mistake from Obama. His inability to go off-script without shooting himself in the foot doesn’t inspire a lot on confidence in his ability to talk to domestic/foreign leaders without sticking his foot in his mouth. Seeing as taking to leaders seems to be a big theme in his campaign, that isn’t good.

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  28. floyd says:

    Note to Matt Bastard, you sure got your feminist panties all in a knot over the term “sweetie”, but you show no class or respect yourself by abusing the name of the one that the majority of people in this country call Lord.

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  29. J Cline says:

    Obamorons will find any sort of excuse for their idol. (How’s that KoolAid sugar buzz working for ya?)

    Offense is in the perception, not the intent. That’s why we don’t use slang labels and dimunitive terms with adult strangers in a professional setting.

    Men tend to use these sort of “endearments” in front of other men to neutralize challenging women at work. Obama was talking in front of a bunch of male autoworkers — a hypermasculine crowd if there was one — and the reporter was doing her job, pushing for an answer.

    Well, the Messiah doesn’t like to be questioned outside of his carefully-choreographed media ops. So he blew her off with a dismissive one-liner and a smirk, and if you listen to the YouTube video (the long one) you hear the other men snicker, as if she just got put in her place.

    But the woman deserved an honest answer, not a patronizing term. How exactly IS Obamajesus going to help American autoworkers?

    As for the term itself — well, if Obama gets to call me “sweetie” then I’ll be glad to call him “boy”. Fair’s fair.

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  30. Jerome says:

    I call women “sweetheart” all the time and have never seen anyone offended. Women usually seem to be amused by it. I had no idea it was a bad thing to say.

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  31. just me says:

    I use these terms often as a southerner, so I can understand that.

    But I think the point that he said it to a woman who was in her professional role while also dismissing her question and not coming back to answer it is wrong and he deserves to be called on it. Had he come back at some point and given her an honest answer I might think differently, but he really did dismiss her and in a manner that was or could be deemed sexist.

    I don’t think this someting to freak out over, and I don’t think it is a huge issue, but I think it is one more negative that takes the shine away from Obama.

    What we are seeing this election cycle is the golden boy who is the savior of American poitics turning into nothing more than a typical politician. His approvals will go down and his negatives will go up, and other than the true believers the rest of the electorate will see him as just another politician running for office.

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  32. scottwww says:

    “Hold on a second, sweetie. We’ll hold a press avail,”
    “Sweetie, if I start with a picture I will never get out of here.”
    “Sweetie if I start doing autographs I just won’t be & I am really late.”

    Spontaneous, habitual, or not, this is sexist by what we have all been taught. Why should Obama get a pass? I think not. Pay the piper Barack.

    The feminists should burn him in effigy! see me at http://Obama.dominates.us

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