Obama's 'Sweetie' Problem

The senator's paternalistic comment to a female factory worker should be drawing more attention.

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If the media truly are not more gender than race biased, then Barack Obama's remarks on the campaign trail in Pennsylvania this week should get as much coverage as Hillary Clinton's remark about Martin Luther King and Lyndon Johnson.

While flirting with female factory workers in Allentown, he called one "sweetie," a paternalistic way to address a woman if there ever was one. It might have worked had he been trying to do his best imitation of Lily Tomlin's Ernestine, the telephone operator, but this was no spoof. This was Obama trying to relate to working-class women in a way that went directly south.

And speaking of MLK: "Presidential candidates John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama will pay homage to the civil rights movement today as part of commemorations marking the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination."

Clinton has the most making-up to do in her Memphis appearance. While she was still front-runner for the Democratic nomination and Obama was a relative unknown, she was garnering up to 75 percent of African-American support. Since then, he has won some 90 percent of the black vote.

She and her campaign associates have not helped alter those numbers. First, she ineptly and inadvertently minimized King's legacy by saying his civil rights movement never would have become law without LBJ signing the civil rights bill. In addition, two campaign surrogates, her husband and former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, made comments that drew accusations the Clinton campaign was "playing the race card."

Clinton has posted a video on her website honoring King's legacy and recalling how she saw him speak in Chicago while she was a high school student.

This is a claim she made in her autobiography, Living History, and while it's been subjected to media inquiries into its veracity, no one yet has been able to prove that it's untrue.

Did Clinton hear King speak in Chicago in 1963? As Bob Somerby would say (today being a day for extra-careful attribution), we have no idea.

So far the media have done nowhere near as good a job promulgating the "sweetie" comment as they have questioning Clinton's claims.