The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nothing classy about Elizabeth Lauten’s criticism of the Obama girls

President Barack Obama speaks as his daughters Sasha and Malia look on before pardoning “Cheese” and his alternate “Mac,” both 20-week old, 48-pound turkeys, during a ceremony at the White House on Nov. 26. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Raising teenagers is hard.

I know from experience — and I haven’t had to do it under the watchful eye of the White House press corps. Or the hyper-critical eye of Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Republican from Tennessee. (Update: Lauten resigned on  Monday.)

If you haven’t heard yet — and to be honest, my attention was focused on a Thanksgiving turkey that didn’t get pardoned — Lauten blasted President Obama’s daughters, Sasha, 13, and Malia, 16, for their facial expressions, body language and outfits during the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony.

Then she made things worse with what sounded like a half-hearted attempt at an apology that tried to show what a good person Lauten must be since she realized “how hurtful” her words were “after many hours of prayer.”

If Lauten were a mom, particularly of teen girls, she’d have a lot more empathy, I suspect, and she’d probably agree with me that kids in the White House should be off-limits to media scrutiny. If you don’t like the president, fine. Criticize his policies, his actions, his decisions.

But don’t pick on his kids or say he’s a bad dad because his girls rolled their eyes at his jokes.

I still remember Rush Limbaugh calling Chelsea Clinton a dog on his television show. She was just 13 years old — that often-awkward age for young girls — and it’s a wonder he didn’t scar her for life with his attempts to poke fun at her. He also referred to Amy Carter as possibly “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of this country.”

Such comments aren’t funny. They’re just cruel.

So when I read Lauten’s comment, I found a video of the event in question, wondering what kind of disrespectful faces the girls made. Yes, they looked bored, there was a little eye-rolling (those jokes might’ve deserved it) and when Malia was asked by her dad if she wanted to pet the now-pardoned turkey, she said, “Nah.” I thought she was restrained, and she did get a big laugh from the audience.

As for their wardrobe choices earning them “a spot at a bar” — a really inappropriate analogy for underage girls — I have to defend the girls. Has Lauten seen any teenaged girls lately at her local mall?

To be honest, I don’t remember the last time I was in a bar, but I did attend the National Honor Society induction ceremony at my son’s high school last month here in Kansas. The boys wore suits, the girls wore black dresses. Some pretty short dresses. With some pretty high heels.

Short skirts are in style. And when you’re a teenaged girl, there is perhaps nothing worse on this earth than to wear something that isn’t in style.

Neither of the Obama daughters showed cleavage at the turkey pardoning. They both wore long sleeves. Yes, their skirts were short. Malia wore dark tights with hers. My son’s high school would not have sent either one home for indecent clothing.

After the firestorm of criticism erupted against Lauten, she posted an apology, but she never used the words, “I’m sorry,” and she didn’t direct her comments directly to Malia and Sasha, as she should have. How about, “I don’t agree with your father’s policies, but I’m sorry for attacking the two of you”?

Instead, she described how she prayed for hours. Did she not recall what many say is the basic message of Jesus Christ? “Love one another.”

“Love one another.” That doesn’t mean posting hateful messages against young girls on Facebook. It means showing respect, even when you disagree with others. It means practicing kindness. It means being nice and remembering that we are all human.

That message was expanded in Sunday’s sermon by Adam Hamilton, the senior pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. when he said, “Jesus called us to love our neighbors and to love our enemies.”

Lauten’s original post linked to an article from a conservative site that concluded, “I don’t think you would have ever seen the Bush daughters in dresses that short. Class is completely absent from this White House.” It seems like Lauten, whose job is to put the spin on the message, should have known better than to pick up this gauntlet of hate and run with it.

Expressing such disdain for young girls hardly seems like the way for Republicans to woo women, minorities and youth.

Or the way for one Republican woman to stay employed. There’s already a Facebook page and an online petition calling for Lauten to resign — or for Fincher to fire her.

As for Sasha and Malia — I hope someone shows them this video of Chelsea Clinton, who said, “I’m a believer in a thick skin as a survival tactic….I have the indubious honor of being compared to a dog as a 13-year-old by Rush Limbaugh. That was not about me, that was about him.”