Obama hits sexism claims into the rough

President plays golf with female aide following allegations of chauvinism
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The Independent US

Was America's momentous 2008 election fought for no other purpose than to replace one frat-boy in the White House with another?

Some liberal critics have already complained that when it comes to bank bail-outs, troop levels in Afghanistan and shutting down Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama's policies aren't that different from those of George Bush. Now charges are flying that Mr Obama runs an administration whose innermost councils resemble nothing so much as a sports-obsessed jocks' club.

Last weekend, the criticisms surfaced in the New York Times, apropos of a basketball game at the White House in which, horror of horrors, no women were invited to take part. Was this more alarming evidence of an unhealthy disposition by the commander-in-chief to surround himself only with men, it was asked. And, of direct electoral consequence, would this male chauvinism put off women, whose votes did much to sweep him into office in the first place?

Mr Obama's reply is, in so many words, "nonsense". The list of those invited to the basketball game had been vetted by women on his staff, he told NBC television. And, he noted, he had named women to 50 per cent of White House posts – including Melody Barnes, his domestic policy adviser and Christina Romer, head of the White House council of economic advisers. Not forgetting Hillary Clinton being at the State Department and Sonia Sotomayor, the newest Supreme Court justice.

Of course, the Obama White House has its share of brash, high-fives-giving, over-achievers: look no further than Rahm Emanuel, the profanity-spewing Chief of Staff. But White House "Brat Packs" are nothing new.

Less expected, however, is the President's penchant (some might say obsession) for golf. It remains shrouded in mystery, apart from the fact that barely nine months into his term, he has already been logged at having played 24 rounds – as many as his predecessor, another keen golfer, managed in the three years before he gave up the game in late 2003, fearful of sending a message of frivolity while US troops were fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But how does Obama play? His golf handicap is a secret, though unofficial estimates put it at between 18 and 24, by no means a disgrace. Word is too that he doesn't cheat: "If he takes an 11 on a hole, that's what he puts down," an aide has been quoted as saying.

That would be a departure from the golf enthusiast Bill Clinton, who used to massage his scoring to scarcely believable levels by ignoring bad shots – "I gave them presidential pardons," he used to say.

And at golf at least, Obama does now play with women. For this first time on Sunday he was listed as having a female partner, Ms Barnes.