A nightmare on Facebook for the Obama crew

December 12, 2008

WASHINGTON - It always seems like fun at the time. Then the photo surfaces.

Two guys, some beer and a cardboard cutout of Sen. Hillary Clinton have created fresh grief for the young and uninitiated to Washington Rules.

In the latest blog scandal-ette, Jon Favreau, 27-year-old wunderkind speechwriter for Barack Obama, was captured clutching the prospective secretary of state's, um, pectoral area, while a fellow reveler, wearing an "Obama Staff" T-shirt, nuzzles Mrs. Clinton's ear and holds a beer bottle to her smiling lips. The photo popped up on Facebook for a couple of hours before being removed ... too late. The moment was captured, and the rest was instant and persistent history.

Feminists groups such as the National Organization for Women and the New Agenda are outraged that Mrs. Clinton - or at least her image - is being treated disrespectfully by the boys. Conservatives are outraged that there's not enough outrage, as would be the case were the party boys Republicans. An attorney wrote on the Feminist Law Professors blog that Mr. Favreau should not be excused for "youthful indiscretion."

Only Hillary Clinton has made light of the "incident." In an e-mail to The Washington Post's Al Kamen, a Clinton adviser wrote: "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application."

Hear, hear. Nipping nonsense in the bud is an essential skill for a secretary of state. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton's response has fallen short of what some deem appropriate. CNN's Campbell Brown charged Mrs. Clinton with forfeiting her feminist cred, especially after issuing her own charges of sexism throughout the presidential campaign. Now that Mrs. Clinton's a member of the Obama team, she suddenly has a sense of humor?

All of the above would be nonsense except that almost nothing any longer is. Puritans and prohibitionists would adore our brave new world of shutterbug infamy. The fact is, no one's having fun anymore, especially in the nation's capital, where one can't afford to let the tongue slip or risk being caught in the cross hairs of a cell camera.

Political veterans have learned, sometimes the hard way. This new generation - the Obama cohort - needs to review The Rules. Smart grown-ups in Washington don't get drunk in public.

At a small, private dinner recently, where wine flowed freely (and no one took pictures), conversation turned to the day when politicos and others routinely enjoyed three-martini lunches. How did they do that? Not just the drinking, but the escape from scrutiny?

It was all about time. In low-tech America, people had time to sober up. There was no e-mail light blinking to demand your immediate attention, no insistent cell phones, no 24/7 news producers demanding instant responses to urgent claims and counterclaims.

For all the gratification and convenience of real-time everything, downtime was underappreciated while it lasted. Now young men goofing around are immortalized as misogynist maulers, portentous reminders to the rest of us that the gender wars won't end until irreverence and humor are dead.

In the meantime, feminists might channel their free-ranging anger toward, say, Iran, where yet another woman recently was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

And Facebookers might heed the saloon owner's orders: Check your weapons at the door. Cameras are lethal.

Kathleen Parker's syndicated column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is kparker@

kparker.com.

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