Tom Harkin: Joni Ernst “As Good Looking As Taylor Swift”

Facepalm

Outgoing Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is raising some eyebrows over comments he made about the Republican running to replace him:

Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst may be “as good looking as Taylor Swift,” but she’s the wrong choice for Iowans, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) said at a recent event.

Buzzfeed on Sunday night flagged Harkin’s remarks from the Story County Democratic Party barbecue last week.

“You know, in this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said, according to video of his remarks. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She’s really attractive, and she sounds nice.'”

“Well I gotta to thinking about that,” he continued. “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

Harkin’s comments were met with loud applause from the audience.

Starting off, I’ll say that this is a minor kerfuffle and something that’s unlikely to have a real impact on the race. However, as several of the panelists on Morning Joe mentioned this morning, one has to wonder how things would be treated if this had been a Republican politician or pundit making comments about the physical appearance of a Democratic candidate or public figure. Indeed, such comments are quite common about people like Michelle Obama, and many pundits on the right seem to enjoy making comments about how the differences in the physical appearance of Republican politicians such as, say, South Dakoka Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski. Such comments are generally criticized as superficial and even sexist. How it’s different when it comes from the mouth of a long-serving Democratic Senator is beyond me.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2014, Congress, Quick Takes, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. jewelbomb says:

    Strawman much? Can you find me anyone on the left excusing what he said, or saying that it’s “different when it comes from the mouth of a long-serving Democratic Senator.”?

  2. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Doug, I am pleasantly surprised to see you pick up on this. I thought that you focused exclusively on Republicans saying dumb things, and ignored Democrats saying dumb things. For example, you’ve missed on:

    Barack Obama saying that mothers staying at home to raise kids is “a decision we don’t want them to make.”

    Hillary Clinton saying businesses and corporations don’t create jobs.

    Jeanne Shaheen denouncing Scott Brown as a “carpetbagger” with Hillary Clinton right beside her.

    Joe Biden repeatedly proving that he is, indeed, dumber than anyone else ever to hold the vice-presidency.

    As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

  3. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @jewelbomb: Let me spell it out for you: if Harkin had an (R) after his name, this would be played, over and over through the elections, as Exhibit One of the “GOP war on women.” Every single GOP candidate would be challenged to denounce Harkin and distance themselves from him, and Harkin’s remark would suddenly become The Most Important Thing In This Election. Hell, we’re still hearing regularly about Todd Akin two years after he said his career-ending statement.

    But since Harkin is a Democrat and his remarks don’t fit the narrative, they’ll be pooh-poohed and ignored and downplayed and swept under the rug.

    Just like you’re doing now.

  4. jewelbomb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: The elaborate fantasy you spun proves absolutely nothing. Once again, which major figures on the left excused what he said?

  5. stonetools says:

    Actually, this is a case of conservatives deliberately twisting what Harkin said in order to achieve a false equivalency with many sexist, demeaning, conservative comments on the physical appearance of Michelle Obama, etc.
    The plain sense of Harkin’s words is that he is counseling AGAINST looking at physical appearance or a nice demeanor and urging people to focus on what she said and how she would vote, i.e, like Michelle Bachmann. I see nothing sexist, demeaning or even controversial about his statement at all. So, no facepalm.
    Here is a demeaning , false statement about Ms. Obama.

    The US based channel was discussing a group known as Mission: Readiness, which is pushing for new school nutrition standards, and is backed by Obama, when Dr. Keith Ablow butted in with the unnecessary comment.

    “How well could she be eating?” he asked when Obama’s name came up. “She needs to drop a few. Let’s be honest. We’re taking nutrition advice from who? Well, no let’s be honest, like there’s no french fries happening. Like that’s all kale and carrots. I don’t buy it,” he said.

    See the difference?

  6. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @jewelbomb: They don’t have to excuse it, they just have to ignore it. The “silence equals assent” and “if you don’t denounce it, then you’re endorsing it” arguments only apply against the GOP.

    I note that you’ve had two opportunities to denounce Harkin’s statement, and haven’t done so. I guess we can infer that you agree with it, then?

  7. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: My, god, that’s shocking. There’s no way in hell I can ever vote for Dr. Ablow now. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  8. jewelbomb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Barack Obama saying that mothers staying at home to raise kids is “a decision we don’t want them to make.”

    Obama’s full quotation was this: “Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” The comment was clearly about gender-based wage disparity, and the choice to which he referred involved which parent would have to stay home because the family can’t afford child care. Stop being dense.

  9. jewelbomb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    I note that you’ve had two opportunities to denounce Harkin’s statement, and haven’t done so. I guess we can infer that you agree with it, then?

    I’m charmed that you think I’m a major figure on the left whose opinion should be consulted every time a Democrat says something silly. Clearly, the comment was sexist (not to mention patently bizarre). Happy?

  10. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @jewelbomb: “Sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

    And here’s a woman answering Obama.

    And yes, taking time off from one’s career negatively affects one’s lifetime earnings. But I thought that money wasn’t the only metric for an enjoyable, successful life. That money wasn’t the most important thing.

    Women who CHOOSE to stay at home (using Obama’s language) are trading off time at work for time with their children. And Obama is saying that that is a CHOICE “we don’t want them to make.” Just who the hell is the “we” here? I support women’s right to make this choice, and support their choices, regardless of which they make. Obama doesn’t want them to make the choice that his own wife made when she gave up her do-nothing job and became First Lady and stay-at-home mom.

    So, do you stand with Obama here? Are you part of the “we” who doesn’t want women to CHOOSE to give up their careers to raise their children? Is he speaking for you?

  11. stonetools says:

    @jewelbomb:

    . Stop being dense.

    Please don’t assume he has a choice in the matter, here. Unfortunately, I think he is doing his best.

  12. Mikey says:

    . Indeed, such comments are quite common about people like Michelle Obama, and many pundits on the right seem to enjoy making comments about how the differences in the physical appearance of Republican politicians such as, say, South Dakoka Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski.

    Did you just equate Harkin saying “don’t focus on appearance” with some Republicans saying “focus on appearance?” Because it sure seems you did.

  13. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @jewelbomb: Happy?

    That I had to shame you into doing what you should have done first? A little.

    But your first instinct was not to be offended by the remark, but spin it. To dismiss it. That says a lot more than your coerced denunciation.

  14. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Of course, I’m not asking you to vote for Ablow(indeed, you may notice that Harkin is not up for election). I’m asking you to note the difference in meaning and intent between the two statements. At this point, I don’t know whether you are being willfully obtuse or merely just too dumb to figure out the difference.

    (Lord, why do I bother? for the lurkers, I guess..)

  15. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    Hey, isn’t Harkin the guy who lied about his military record, falsely claiming to have flown combat missions over Viet Nam? Oh, yeah, he did.

    I wonder just what he’d have to do to actually be ostracized by the Democrats…

  16. jewelbomb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Are you part of the “we” who doesn’t want women to CHOOSE to give up their careers to raise their children?

    I’m part of the “we” who doesn’t want women to HAVE to choose to give up their careers in order to raise a child. If you read the remarks in context, he was talking about how increased access to public preschool would help give women choices. If you truly believe that President Obama has something against stay-at-home mothers, you’re certifiably nuts.

  17. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about the lurkers, sweetie; they can think for themselves.

    (Sorry about that; I was channeling my inner Harkin/Obama there.)

  18. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @jewelbomb: I’m part of the “we” who doesn’t want women to HAVE to choose to give up their careers in order to raise a child.

    And apparently you’re part of the “we” who doesn’t understand the term “choose.” If you “HAVE to choose” something, then it’s not a choice.

    Obama didn’t say “have to stay at home.” He said “choose to stay at home.” He’s against women having a choice. Or, at least, against them making the choice of which he disapproves.

  19. stonetools says:

    @jewelbomb:

    If you truly believe that President Obama has something against stay-at-home mothers, you’re certifiably nuts.

    Ding Ding! I think we have a winner!
    Either that, or Jenos is simply a troll who doesn’t really believe what he is saying, but is cynically spreading right wing propaganda for his own purposes. Frankly, I don’t know whether he is deluded, wicked or just dumb-hard to tell with many conservatives. We should probably just ignore him and move on. DNFTT

  20. jewelbomb says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Dude. The choice to which he referred was WHICH parent would forsake a career in order to raise a child. I’ll go slow: if a family can’t afford child care, one parent will likely have to give up his or her job. The President correctly observed that, when faced with this choice, the most common outcome is that the woman, who tends to earn less in light of gender-based wage disparities, will quit her job. He was making the point that families shouldn’t have to choose which parent will forsake their career. Again, If you truly believe that President Obama has something against stay-at-home mothers, you’re certifiably nuts.

  21. C. Clavin says:

    @jewelbomb:

    Stop being dense.

    Good luck with that.

  22. C. Clavin says:

    Am I the only one that doesn’t think Mr. Rogers is that good looking?

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @stonetools: Thank you, I had only skimmed this myself. On careful reading, you are correct, Harkin didn’t say what he’s accused of saying. Doug’s headline could just as fairly have read

    Tom Harkin: Joni Ernst “As nice as Mr. Rogers”

    (Which Harkin also didn’t say.)

  24. jewelbomb says:

    @stonetools:

    DNFTT

    I know. I tend to lurk on OTB pretty regularly, so I know what Jenos is all about. For some reason, I allowed myself to be dragged into the mud this time. I should have known better.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @jewelbomb:
    It happens.

  26. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @gVOR08: Thank you, I had only skimmed this myself. On careful reading, you are correct, Harkin didn’t say what he’s accused of saying.

    “You know, in this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads,” Harkin said, according to video of his remarks. “And there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She’s really attractive, and she sounds nice.’”

    “Well I gotta to thinking about that,” he continued. “I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.”

    Joni Ernst’s first big ad talked about how, growing up on a farm, she had castrated hogs. “Nice” isn’t a term that comes to mind.

    And just what ads have emphasized Ernst’s appearance? “I’m pretty, vote for me?”

    So your argument boils down to “who you gonna believe — me, or your lying eyes?”

  27. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    Hey, isn’t Harkin the guy who lied about his military record, falsely claiming to have flown combat missions over Viet Nam? Oh, yeah, he did.

    You know, we actually do see you using distraction here. That was as obvious as throwing a skunk into the middle of a garden party. OK, that’s my last response to Jenos on this thread. I’m tired already.

    Red Herring

    Disciplines > Argument > Fallacies > Red Herring

    Description

    We are talking about X. Y is mentioned. The conversation changes to Y.

    If you want to avoid talking about something, change the subject.

    Pick something that will engage the other people. It can be completely off the current track or something related, but not really relevant. Something controversial or anything that arouses their emotions is often a good idea.

    Example

    What about Christmas? Well, my aunt is coming next week.

    This is expensive. Mind you, I heard that we might get a raise soon.

    Yes, it is expensive, sir. Is that a scratch? No, it’s reflection in the fine paintwork.

    Discussion

  28. C. Clavin says:

    @gVOR08:
    And lets get to the meat of what he was saying, which is far too important to be lost on this BS:

    if she votes like Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.

  29. wr says:

    @Mikey: “Did you just equate Harkin saying “don’t focus on appearance” with some Republicans saying “focus on appearance?” Because it sure seems you did.”

    Of course he did. Because BOTH SIDES DO IT!!!!!!!

  30. stonetools says:

    @wr:

    Of course he did. Because BOTH SIDES DO IT!!!!!!!

    Yup. As our resident Truly Independent Voter (But Not Really), he has to support that narrative, even as with this case, it’s not really true that the Democrat did it at all. Well, this post has been a classic example of confirmation bias.

    Doug, I hope you’ll come back and clean this post up by admitting that Harkin really didn’t make a demeaning, sexist comment on Ms. Ernst’s physical appearance (indeed, arguably, he didn’t directly comment on her appearance at all).
    I’m hoping for intellectual honesty from you. I expect nothing from Jenos and the other trolls, but you (and OTB) have a reputation to uphold.

  31. Davebo says:

    @stonetools:

    I’d say Doug is upholding his reputation just fine.

  32. Franklin says:

    He did NOT say she’s as good-looking as Taylor Swift. Context matters, and when the word before a quote is “if”, it changes the context significantly.

    But to the main point, yes, it was a stupid thing to talk about her looks at all. He’s acting like an old boy and an idiot.

  33. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    And lets get to the meat of what he was saying, which is far too important to be lost on this BS:

    Sigh, too late.The conservative blog swarm is really good at obfuscation. I’ll be honest, we really, really need a liberal BS machine as good as the Right Wing BS machine. It’s like one army with air support fighting another army without it. We’re going to lose, most of the time. Again, I expect liberals too talk about we’re too good to stoop to that. Well, we’re going to continue to get stomped.

  34. stonetools says:

    @Franklin:

    But to the main point, yes, it was a stupid thing to talk about her looks at all. He’s acting like an old boy and an idiot

    Will all due respect, I’m not going to concede even that. Context matters and intent does too. Telling somebody to look beyond physical appearance to consider her record is NOT the same as commenting on her appearance. Don’t go down their d@mned false equivalence rabbit hole.

    Example:

    “She’s cute.”

    A comment on her physical appearance.

    “Whether people think she’s cute or not, what matters is her record”

    A plea to focus on her record.

    Those statements are fundamentally different, and don’t let conservative blogswarming confuse you about that.

  35. Tyrell says:

    Notice Harkin said “if” she was as good looking as Taylor. Ms. Ernst is attractive , but as attractive
    as Taylor is a matter of debate.
    I fail to understand why any woman would take offensive at being described as attractive, or even “hot”. Most women around here would be flattered.

  36. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step…

    as they say, “two government shutdowns in five years begins with a single party”

  37. Ben Wolf says:

    I don’t see that Harkin said anything unacceptable. Candidates’ appearances are always a factor in an election and there is a lot of media babble about Ernst’s.

  38. ktward says:

    @stonetools:

    The plain sense of Harkin’s words is that he is counseling AGAINST looking at physical appearance or a nice demeanor and urging people to focus on what she said and how she would vote, i.e, like Michelle Bachmann.

    That was my take. And frankly, I don’t think it’s an unwise point to make, particularly in the context of an election campaign. (I’m remembering Lowry’s “starbursts” re Palin. Y’know, I sometimes wonder just how deep his regrets go, writing that particular piece.)

  39. Franklin says:

    @stonetools: Mmm, yes, he came to that not-very-profound point eventually. But he introduced it by using a mock quote from persons unknown, “blah blah blah Joni Ernst. She’s really attractive.” That was the *very* first thing said about her. (The technique of using anonymous quotes to say what you want to say but shouldn’t reminds me of the way Fox News pretends not to be the source of a faux outrage: “Some people say that Obama burns American flags in his fireplace.”) Anyway, I’ll agree to dial back my comments a little. It’s a minor kerfluffle, as Doug said.

  40. stonetools says:

    @Franklin:

    Oh well, it’s easy to be confused in the light of the protective media cloud that’s gathered around her. I tell you, has any candidate been as lucky this cycle as Ernst? There has been not one critical analysis of her record and her statements in the mainstream media. The woman could eat puppies for breakfast on national TV, and the commentary would just be about her home décor!
    OK, so the Republicans get Iowa…

  41. anjin-san says:

    Ah, I see Jenos has come to rest after the wind sprint he did retreating from the ebola/Kaci Hickox discussion the other day…

  42. Ian says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    You clearly don’t notice that both parties have their own media blind spots. With Dems, it’s racism and sexism. If Harry Reid’s comment about Obama in 2008 had been made by a Republican, there would have been a media firestorm. However, Republicans get a pass on anything patriotism-related. If a Dem had imitated Ted Cruz and called a decorated vet a North Korean agent, or if they had imitated Paul Ryan and claimed all of the Generals were lying to protect Obama, the media firestorm would have rivaled the “General Betrayus” idiocy (a term Rush Limbaugh coined with zero blowback, BTW). Unfortunately Republicans are so wound up in their “lieberal media” persecution complex, they can’t even muster a quiet, “Thank you” for the media covering their enormous arses.

  43. Matt says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Clinton was right corporations don’t inherently create jobs. Demand creates jobs.

  44. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @stonetools: Oh well, it’s easy to be confused in the light of the protective media cloud that’s gathered around her. I tell you, has any candidate been as lucky this cycle as Ernst?

    First up, my apologies for having a life. Sorry I stepped away for a few hours.

    OK, back on topic. Franklin said what I was thinking — Ernst’s appearance wasn’t a factor anywhere until Harkin pulled his “purple elephant” stunt. (The old trick — “whatever you do, do NOT think about purple elephants! Think about anything besides purple elephants!”)

    And stonetools — if you hadn’t specified “candidate,” I’d have said Hillary Clinton. But how about abortionpro-choice Barbie down in Texas, Wendy Davis? She’s had Epic Fail after Epic Fail, starting with the collapse of her own personal narrative and winding up with those Hail Mary ads that were downright lies, but she’s been given huge passes by the mainstream media.

    And if you can be honest for a moment, you can admit that there are a lot of out–of-mainstream media sites and sources with a determined political angle. If Ernst has been saying and doing so many horrid things, why haven’t any of those sources covered them? Hell, Ernst has an opponent with a ton of money to spend — why hasn’t that campaign called her out for all those things?

    So go ahead, cite some source that backs up your inferences. Anyone — even Democratic Underground or TruthOut or Media Matters or Daily Kos or MoveOn. I won’t mock you for citing those sources (this time). Just put a little substance behind your saying “there has been not one critical analysis of her record and her statements in the mainstream media.”

    Just what in her record, or her public statements, should get some scrutiny and critical analysis that has been lacking?

  45. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    @Ian: the “General Betrayus” idiocy

    Let’s just make sure we’re talking about the same thing. This would be the incident where MoveOn.org took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to call Petraeus a liar before he even testified? When the New York Times gave MoveOn.org a huge, huge discount on running that ad, then when caught, had to send MoveOn.org a bill for the difference so it wouldn’t be legally considered a donation in-kind? Was that the incident?

    Note that the outrage isn’t in the term. It’s in MoveOn.org pre-emptively calling Petraeus a liar, and the New York Times giving MoveOn.org a huge discount for the ad — which was a donation, just one that they “took back” when word got out. That was the outrage.

  46. al-Ameda says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    She’s had Epic Fail after Epic Fail, starting with the collapse of her own personal narrative and winding up with those Hail Mary ads that were downright lies, but she’s been given huge passes by the mainstream media.

    Victimization Alert:
    What “huge passes” has she been given? Her stumbles have been widely reported in the so-called “mainstream media.”

  47. C. Clavin says:

    @Matt:
    And no successful corporation can do it without government help.
    No private fortune was ever made without government help.

  48. Grewgills says:

    How it’s different when it comes from the mouth of a long-serving Democratic Senator is beyond me.

    Because context matters.

    You know, in this Senate race, I’ve been watching some of these ads and there’s sort of this sense that, ‘Well, I hear so much about Joni Ernst. She’s really attractive, and she sounds nice.
    Well I gotta to thinking about that, I don’t care if she’s as good looking as Taylor Swift or as nice as Mr. Rogers, but if she votes like [Minnesota Rep.] Michele Bachmann, she’s wrong for the state of Iowa.

    Notice that the people wanting to make this comment look sexist leave out the Mr Rogers bit. He isn’t valuing or devaluing her based on her appearance. If a Republican said the same it wouldn’t be sexist either. This isn’t a big deal, or shouldn’t be.

  49. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:
    If you weren’t so intent on seeing what you want to see rather than what is being communicated you would understand the point he was making. He doesn’t want people (in this case it is almost exclusively women) to be forced to choose between raising their children and a lifetime of lower wages. The policies he supports to combat that forced choice include longer maternity leaves like those in Europe that allow women to take some time off to raise children and reenter the workforce without that counting so heavily against them. That you want to twist that into sexism for partisan advantage doesn’t make it so.

  50. Grewgills says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13:

    But how about abortionpro-choice Barbie down in Texas

    Seriously? Criticizing someone for a supposedly sexist statement while continuing to repeat your sexist description of Davis is right about the height of hypocrisy.

  51. wr says:

    @Grewgills: “Criticizing someone for a supposedly sexist statement while continuing to repeat your sexist description of Davis is right about the height of hypocrisy.”

    Not to mention having a fainting spell over the *horror* of those beastly people who called Petraeus a liar now that Petraeus was forced to resign once it was discovered that he was… a liar.

  52. Dave D says:

    @Jenos Idanian #13: Is The Atlantic too leftist?

    Agenda 21, which takes off from an innocuous, voluntary UN resolution and turns it into a sinister plot which, as the John Birch Society says, “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family. Furthermore, it would eliminate your private property rights through eminent domain.” And she has made comments about Americans totally dependent on government that make Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” observations look almost populist by comparison.
    (…)
    The other day, The Washington Post carried a front-page profile of Joni Ernst by feature reporter Monica Hesse. The piece was particularly striking—a long, warm, almost reverential portrait of a woman candidate charming Iowans by doing it “the Iowa way”—no doubt, an accurate portrayal by a veteran journalist. Hesse did suggest, in passing, that Ernst has taken some controversial positions in the past, such as supporting “personhood,” but emphasized that she has walked them back. Not mentioned in the piece was Ernst’s flirtation with one of the craziest conspiracy theories, or her comments on dependency—or her suggestion that she would use the gun she packs if the government ever infringed on her rights.

  53. Dave D says:

    I hate living in Iowa around election time, for every campaign ad from an actual candidate there are 6 more from The Chamber of Commerce, Freedom Partners Action Fund, etc. Tomorrow cannot come fast enough.

  54. Pinky says:

    This seems like a Kinsley gaffe at worst.

  55. stonetools says:

    Note that Doug never came back to say that yes, Harkin’s remarks were misinterpreted. Oh well, disappointed but not surprised.

  56. Tyrell says:

    I still don’t see how anyone could be offended. Maybe I am missing something here.