On the subject of the Obama girls’ supposedly disrespectful behavior at the Thanksgiving turkey pardoning: not even close to unpardonable. As my teenaged daughters would say to the Republican congressional staffer who took to Facebook to take off after Sasha and Malia: Hello? Have you, like, ever even met a teenager?
“I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class,” lectured Elizabeth Lauten, congressional schoolmarm — oops, I mean, communications director — for Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (R-Tenn.).
“Then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much…so I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department,” Lauten continued, venturing deeper into failing-to-practice-what-you-preach territory. “Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.”
Where to start with this infuriating rant. First, to say that it so crossed the line that Lauten retracted it, saying she had “quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager” and that “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.”
Second, while Lauten’s below-the-belt jabs would have been wrong under any circumstances, they were particularly wrong since the Obama girls’ demeanor wasn’t even close to the edge of the sassy teenager spectrum. (Believe me, I know.)
At 13 and 16, having to stand next to your parent for any stretch of time feels like cruel and unusual punishment. Having to stand next to your parent in front of television cameras, even worse. And while he pardons a turkey? And asks if you want to pet it? Does he think you are a child?
Given all that, I thought the girls did fine. No audible sighing. No “da-ad” said in the exasperated teenaged way, extending the parental appellation into a multisyllabic epithet. If there was a soupcon of eye-rolling and a stretch of get-me-outta-here arm-crossing, well—they were props at a turkey pardoning, for heaven’s sake. I thought it remarkable that two girls that age could be separated from their cell phones for so long.
As to the dress, Elizabeth, excuse me: have you been to a high school recently? Or a bar, for that matter? The skirts were a bit short, but in the calculus of parent-child clothing battles, hardly worth fighting over.
Third, to criticize Lauten is not to say that presidential children are off limits. They aren’t. If they get used as props, as in the turkey pardoning–well, some commentary goes with the territory. President Obama is particularly fond of invoking his daughters to make a point, as in lecturing Congress that Malia and Sasha get their homework done. By doing so, he opens the door to public discussion.
But only a crack. The older the presidential child, the worse the presidential child’s behavior, the fairer the game for discussion. I’ve gone there myself: back in 2006, after a series of sackings at the George W. Bush White House, I wrote a snarky faux thank-you-for-your-service letter to the Bush twins, introducing them to new First Daughter Chelsea Clinton. The White House was not pleased.
But that was parody, and with ample ammunition (underage drinking busts, etc.) This was sheer meanness, and with little basis. There’s a new turkey in town, and she’s not likely to get a presidential pardon.