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The hottie and the nottie? Gillibrand and Reid, considered

Q: When is a compliment not a compliment?

A: When it consists of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introducing you by saying that "We in the Senate refer to Sen. Gillibrand as the hottest member."

Everyone enjoys being called hot from time to time. I enjoy being called "hot, from time to time."

But there's a point when that's actually not a compliment. That's when it comes from Harry Reid, your colleague in the Senate, introducing you at an event.

Still, why is it considered such a faux pas? If I introduced Reid as "the hottest member of the Senate," would that draw gasps? For reasons other than inaccuracy? As Reid probably thought to himself before he said it, "Why do they even make these lists of attractive Hill personalities, and pointedly not include me, if they don't want me to reference them when I introduce my female colleagues?" Usually, the answer to this question is that someone was bored and had nothing better to do than rank the comparative hotness of members of Congress, which is like trying to produce a Zagat guide to the Sahara.

Is this sexist? Well, given the vote on DADT today and the gender balance in the Senate, I doubt that many senators will be referring to male senators as "the hottest member," except perhaps like this: "Since Sen. McCain's air conditioning done broke, he's been the hottest member in these here parts." For the purpose of that hypothetical quote, one of the senators is an old-timey cowpoke. This is the part when I am contractually obligated to say, "Why is it that women in positions of power have to have big deals made of their appearance? Why not men?" Then I roar and burn a brassiere.

Sexist, maybe. But is it fair? Every so often, Dateline issues forth a study indicating that more attractive people have easier lives. They (or we, depending on how charitably you feel towards my headshot) get better jobs, people trust them more easily, they have less difficulty getting careers in entertainment, and they attract mates with greater ease. Sometimes we even vote for them. Why shouldn't we call attention to the fact that they belong to the grossly overserved group of Hot Americans? All their lives, they get advantaged by our genetic impulses. Why can't we at least call them out on it?

Well, we just don't, is the short answer. Ever since Warren G. Harding's presidency was so disastrous, we at least make a pretense of voting for people because we view them as somehow more competent than their alternatives, not simply better-looking. Just observe Christine O'Donnell. I wouldn't vote for her because she dresses well. I'd vote for her because she can fix our problems, if she'll only embrace her magical powers!

And the least we can do for our colleagues -- or even our opponents -- is to act that way. Harry Reid, Kirsten Gillibrand doesn't introduce you as "one of the less hot members of the Senate, but, hey, he's doing the best with what he was given." You owe her the same.

By Alexandra Petri  | September 21, 2010; 5:31 PM ET
Categories:  Petri, Senate, That's awkward  | Tags:  Hot or Not  
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