Obama's Defense of Secretaries Might Be Backhanded

Some in the media grumble over Obama and Buffett's use of the word 'secretary'

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In today's Rose Garden speech, President Obama reiterated his defense of America's over-taxed administrative assistants. "Warren Buffett's secretary shouldn't pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett," Obama said, recalling the comparison that Buffett himself often points out when advocating for higher tax rates on America's "super-rich." But several journalists quickly took to Twitter to question just how much good Obama is doing for America's administrative class. "Obama & Buffett are swiftly overturning the messaging victory of administrative assistants over past 25 yrs." tweeted the Daily Caller's Mary Katherine Ham. "Do we still say secretary? Really? #madmen" tweeted the Washingtonian's Kay Steiger during the speech.

Indeed in the past several decades, a politically correct push has begun to give the word "secretary" a stigma. It's become a word that evokes a subservient, female-only profession, one depicted in all its sexist butt-pinching non-glory in AMC's Mad Men. Thus the National Secretaries Association became the International Association of Administrative Professionals, and in 2000, Professional Secretaries Week became Administrative Professionals Week. Still, Obama and dozens of other commentators commonly make reference to Buffett's "secretary" (the character has become a sort of elusive archetype for all those who are taxed under different rules from the financiers that employ them) particularly since Buffett reiterated his support for higher taxes in a now-famed New York Times op-ed. Buffett, to his credit, cited his "receptionist's" tax rate in a few other quotes on the subject and the rates of the twenty people in his office in the op-ed. So the focus on his "secretary" seems to come from coverage of his proposals, not his own words.

And while Obama may inadvertently be perpetuating a message that administrative assistants have fought against, he's certainly not the first or the only one. The "secretary" word may have achieved some stigma, but it's certainly still in wide use in today's society. And an apparent opponent of Obama's proposed tax hikes has started fake tweeting with the handle @BuffetSecretary. Started just a few hours ago, the account's first tweet reads: "You know, I’m actually okay with the amount I pay in taxes." With Buffett's assistant/secretary/receptionist so engrained in political lore, we expect the media's preferred "Buffett's secretary" moniker to be with us for awhile. Hopefully he at least gets her a gift during Administrative Professionals Week.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.