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Obama's 'best-looking' quip: Appropriate in the real world?

By Henry Hanks, CNN
updated 9:19 PM EDT, Fri April 5, 2013
California attorney general Kamala Harris speaks at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
California attorney general Kamala Harris speaks at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Commenters weighed in on Obama's remark about California AG's looks
  • Some drew on personal experience in deciding if Obama should have apologized
  • Some said such a remark in the workplace would have caused trouble
  • One says fear of misspeaking could leave people "staring dumbly at one another"

(CNN) -- It was a remark that launched a media firestorm. Should it have?

In the midst of praising California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Thursday, President Barack Obama described her as "by far the best-looking" AG of all.

By Friday, the uproar over the remark was such that the president called Harris to apologize for the "distraction created by the comments," according to his spokesman, Jay Carney.

CNN.com readers were sharply divided over whether such an apology was warranted. Some drew on their own personal experiences with such incidents.

Commenter Lulany said that she is often "annoyed" at the focus on women's appearance that she observes day to day, but that the president did not commit a foul here.

"It's a comment you often hear from men to point out that a woman is more pleasant to the eye. I don't see much harm in that especially coming from a man who is surrounded by strong women and clearly has the highest respect for them."

James Pfeiffer mentioned how, one day, he was complimented on his "beautiful hair" by a woman in the parking lot of a golf course.

"I was speechless. But you know, it really made a 65-year-old guy feel pretty good."

He said the "politicization" of such remarks would mean "soon we'll all be just staring dumbly at one another from the fear of saying something wrong."

But what about incidents at the workplace?

"Consider this: You are at work and you tell your co-worker, 'By the way, you are the best looking co-worker here,'" said commenter "Me Not You."

"Could you be in the HR office by the end of the day? I think so."

Commenter "Person of Interest" recalled telling a female co-worker that her new haircut brought out her eyes.

"Next thing I know, I hear about how I was being inappropriate and hitting on her," he explained.

"When I asked her about it, she said she didn't think I was and in fact she was happy all day long that at least one man noticed it. A few weeks later, she complimented my girlfriend about how sweet I am to notice things like that. My girlfriend agreed."

Another commenter, "pmn," said that she went through a very similar experience to that of Harris, being introduced as a new employee.

"One of the male executives announced that she is definitely good-looking compared to a past employee," she said.

"So inappropriate. I turned completely red and felt very awkward."

And "jon" commented that remarks like that are banned from his workplace.

Paul Hogue, who stated that he supported the president, found the comment out of line, imagining if the scenario were slightly different.

"I don't recall a president commenting on how rugged their vice president looks, specifically because it detracts from the reason they are hired."

"Really?" also commented by imagining that the tables had been turned somewhat.

"What would the response have been if a female politician with tremendous power had remarked that a male politician with less power was the 'best-looking so and so'?"

They added that ultimately, it comes down to the context and setting.

"If a comment like this is made between close friends, no big deal -- although the time and place the comment is made could be questioned since others may not know that it is a comment between friends. If a comment like this is made between people that are only meeting recently, or for the first time, in this type of forum -- not appropriate at all, regardless of political affiliation and/or position of power."

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