Sunday, December 07, 2014

Girl Talk

When the history of blood-letting between political parties in this country is told, Elizabeth Lauten will be at best a footnote.

Her recent ham-fisted attempt to embarrass President Obama’s children thrust her briefly into the spotlight, where she quickly became the face of mudslinging, Washington, D.C. style. 

And in doing so, she joined the Internet lunatic fringe, the same folks who have  castigated the President for being a Nazi, a Communist, a Muslim, a militant, a murderer. And worse.

To recount: While the rest of us were counting our blessings during the Thanksgiving holiday, Ms. Lauten, an obscure Republican Congressional aide, was busy writing a poison pen missive criticizing President Obama’s daughters for what she perceived as a lack of class and inappropriate dress.

In an act of Christian charity, she grudgingly forgave the girls because, in her view, their parents are lousy role models.

And what triggered this outburst?  Did they show up in cut-offs and flip flops at at state dinner?  Did they play Frisbee in Arlington Cemetery? Did they scrawl their names on the Washington Monument?

Nope. They acted awkward and embarrassed while their father conducted a dog and pony show.

Sasha and Malia Obama, a couple of teenagers aged 13 and 16, were caught on national TV behaving like, well, a couple of teenagers who had that “I’d rather be anyplace but here” look as their father cracked corny jokes while pardoning a turkey.

Which brought this response from Ms. Lauten:

“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter, so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”

One could reasonably assume Ms. Lauten is an expert on etiquette, adolescent behavior and fashion.

But no. It turns out she is a bully and a hypocrite.

A bully because she attempted to slut-shame the girls by suggesting they dress like a couple of bar flies who are victims of lousy parenting.

A hypocrite because it turns out Ms. Lauten was no teen angel. It turns out she was arrested and charged with shoplifting at the age of 17 in her North Carolina hometown, according the Smoking Gun website. 

Soon after crafting her diatribe and putting it on Facebook, she became a political liability and resigned her job as communications director for Rep. Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.).

 "I quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager," she said.

“After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents, and re-reading my words online I can see more clearly just how hurtful my words were.”

Maybe she can sign on with Rush Limbaugh who compared the then 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton to a dog and once called Amy Carter “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” 

While the saga of Elizabeth Lauten was unfolding, some pundits speculated her  real sin was criticizing the children of a President.  While that may be an unwritten rule it’s one that’s often violated.

When President Bush's 19-year-old twin daughters were charged with underage alcohol offenses, the media leapt into full coverage mode. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer finally told reporters,  ''I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this."

Some presidential progeny demanded the spotlight, and got it.  According to a story in the Washington Post, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, chewed gum, smoked in public, carried a snake to parties and ran up debts playing poker and buying clothes.

The president is said to have remarked: “I can be president of the United States — or — I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both!”

So given that writing about presidential families is not as sacrosanct as we may believe, what undid Ms. Lauten?

First, she decided to fire her blunderbuss on a slow news day, guaranteeing her an audience larger than she could ever imagine.

Second, she directed her ire at a couple of kids, triggering a protective, almost paternal, instinct in many.

Third, she engaged in the kind of combative politics that many Americans have grown to loathe. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post, “People hate Washington. As a result, they like hate-reading (or hate-watching) anything that affirms for them the essential loathsomeness of the nation's capital.”

Elizabeth Lauten exercised her First Amendment right to free speech. But she learned that the First Amendment doesn’t protect you from looking foolish.

Robert Rector is a veteran of 50 years in print journalism. He has worked at the San Francisco Examiner, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Valley News, Los Angeles Times and Pasadena Star-News. He can be reached at Nulede@Aol.Com.

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