I first read about the Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) "ma'am" controversy over at Not a Potted Plant. Basically, a military officer called Sen. Boxer "ma'am", Boxer asked instead if he would call her Senator, and the officer agreed. And then apparently a huge swath of the intertubes went off on Sen. Boxer as an uppity bitch.
The supposed twist here is that "ma'am" in the military is a standard term of respect used when addressing a female superior officers. This is discussed a bit in the Shakesville comments, where it is noted that even within the military "Senator" is still the proper address to a female Senator, not ma'am (see here). And of course, civilians not part of the military don't necessarily interpret words in the military context -- which I presume is part of the reason why the military has that protocol in the first place.
Nobody was saying this officer was a bad guy. He said "ma'am", which given his background was perfectly polite; Boxer asked to be called "Senator" -- also entirely reasonable and within her rights; the officer agreed. That should be case closed.