On Friday, the mighty Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.), used all her media skills to take on a powerful opponent at the White House, with a scathing blast on Facebook . Just to be clear, it wasn't against Barack Obama, but rather the president's 16 and 13-year-old daughters who had been ask to watch as their dad pardoned a turkey.
I hate stories like this. Not because of how smarmy and idiotic the story is. No, that's almost standard these days in political slams. What I mean I hate is that there's so much to criticize that it's hard to know where to start.
What's wrong here is so utterly blatant and so completely on the surface that's you're reduced to stating the obvious. Like noting how bullying and overbearing it is for a know-it-all political spokesman to take two young, girls to task publicly.
And thinking that a turkey pardoning is an actually-serious, important State Event.
And neglecting the historical reality that, since the beginning of time, teenagers will act bored and annoyed when their father does one of those silly-father things, most especially like having to pardon a turkey.
But also, not recognizing that teenage girls will insist on dressing like teenage girls, rather than like a spinster school marm.. (Let alone having their clothes approved before going out to a public event.)
And ignoring that these two young girls who have grown up in the White House and intense glare of the world's vigilant public eye, have been nothing but the picture of remarkable grace.
While conveniently forgetting that when the previous, two adult daughters were in the White House, they kept getting into actual trouble for underage alcohol-related events, including receiving a police citation.
But as I said, these are just the obvious things that Ms. Lauten did that was so wrong. But there's more.
For starters, this isn't just some smarmy, ignorant adult slamming two teenage girls in a random tweet. It's someone whose very profession is political communication and specifically sending out messages like this. Yet it's even more than that -- because previously Elizabeth Lauten hadn't just served a single congressman, but was the New Media Political Manager of the Republican National Committee. ("New Media" as in...oh, the Internet. And Facebook. Yes, this is her actual area of expertise.) In other words, Ms. Lauten was no neophyte who screwed up out of naive ignorance. Like, say, a 13 and 16-year-old might. This is someone who is considered savvy by those who have been hiring her for years. (Well...okay, who "was" considered savvy.) Yes, such people can make mistakes. Big mistakes, as we've just seen. But it's important to recognize that Elizabeth Lauten is someone who wasn't just being snide and an adult bully to kids, but was doing her job.
And there's something else very bothersome at play here: I don't think Elizabeth Lauten's posting was just merely smarmy, mean-spirited and thoughtless, but also racial.
To be clear, I didn't say "racist," that's very different. And this wasn't that. But I do get the sense when reading this holier-than-thou, patronizing adult giving a tongue lashing in public to two young girls that Ms. Lauten was at ease doing so because she felt a sense of entitlement, since the two little black girls didn't know and had to be told how to act in proper society. How to have "class" -- when you're just 13. How to "respect" their betters. How not to dress like little bar-sluts. How to be a good little "role models" for who you are.
I could be very wrong about that. Maybe Elizabeth Lauten is just naturally an overbearing know-it-all who lectures children about having class and showing respect to their nation and how to dress properly. But reading the breadth of her words, it's so paternalistic and berating that I have a hard time parsing it any other way. Why say it in the first place, after all, slamming two young girls?? What compelled her, and with such condescension? Why single out these two children, because she certainly didn't take the adult Bush twins to task, not even when the police got involved. Hey, maybe it's just because they're Democratic children. But then, neither of them can vote, so political affiliation seems a pointless reason and unlikely..
There's more, too, that's problematic which ties to this. But I'll get to that in a moment.
First though, it must be mentioned that after the public outrage went viral at this Facebook slam of the young girls, Ms. Lauten posted an apology.
Now, as readers of these pages know, Nell Minow and I are co-founders of The Apology Institute, a self-honored organization that analyzes mea culpas. And it is my expert opinion -- and I have subsequently gotten agreement from the eminent Ms. Minow -- that while Elizabeth Lauten's apology looks good and oh-so-heartfelt on the surface...I think it's terrible.
For starters why on earth does it require "hours of prayer" to understand that what she did was SO thoughtless and hurtful to two young girls and wrong on so many levels??? Why drag God into it? He's got better things to do. Why hide under the protection of God's robes to tell you it was wrong? Couldn't you figure it out by yourself?
And further, why the need to go ask mom and dad if you messed up? You're an adult!! For goodness sake, you were the New Media Political Manager of the Republican National Committee. More than that, you're the communications director of a United States congressman! These are adult positions of responsibility. And you had to ask mom and dad if if was okay to publicly slam two young teenage girls for acting bored but polite at the pardoning of a turkey??!!
Asking God and mom and dad strikes me as less the foundation of an apology, and more like you're looking for cover, that you don't have a clue what you did and you want someone to make you say you're sorry. It looks calculated and like you're trying to make yourself the victim, not those you slammed.
And by the way, when you do say "I'm sorry," God would probably tell you to say it to the people you insulted. Not to "those I have hurt." You give them names. You certainly had no trouble naming them when you lashed out your slam. Referencing them in regards to the original Facebook post in merely a reference, not an apology.
Ms. Lauten does get points for at least saying "who I have hurt" and not the empty "if I have hurt anyone...". And she gets points too for saying that she pledges to learn and grow. Mind you, she didn't say how she pledges to learn and grow. We only have her word to take for it...and right now her word isn't looking too good.
That's because she leaves out any apology for what I think may be the worst thing in her Facebook slam, even more so than taking off after the two girls, and something that hasn't gotten nearly the attention. Chastising the young girls was bad, very bad, but mainly stupid and thoughtless. But what there's absolutely no mention of in her apology is the passage that, to me, is the underlying cause of her angry, nasty words, which speaks more directly to Ms. Lauten's beliefs, not just a quick, foolish judgment of young girls. It's when she wrote --
"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."
Since there is no apology for this, we can only assume that Ms. Lautner feels there's nothing to apologize for. Even after talking with God. That it's her actual belief that the President of the United States and First Lady don't respect America. And are such extremely bad parents, on top of it all.
(Because having parents who are both graduates of Ivy League colleges, and accomplished attorneys, and a father who became a United States Senator and President of the United States, indeed the first black President in U.S. history, a mother who polls show is admired by two-thirds of the nation, and parents who kept their promise to buy a dog for you, are really terrible role models, of course...)
It's worth noting, as well, that Ms. Lauten says she didn't even bother to watch video of the event before taking a 13 and 16-year-old girl to task, but just relied on reading an article. She couldn't be bothered taking the 18 seconds searching for "Obama pardon turkey" on YouTube. Which speaks volumes, too, about her intent behind all this. This has next to nothing about her caring about the children she smeared -- if it was, she'd have watched the video -- but rather she just wanted to find some new way to demean the President of the United States. And cravenly used two young girls as her bludgeon.
And there you have it. That's what she was complaining about. Not two little girls. They were just easy targets to use as surrogates for hating Barack Obama. And let's throw in his "terrorist fist-bumping" wife, while we're at it. How cowardly. And no apology for that. Disliking policies is one thing, but suggesting that the President and First Lady don't respect the United States...well, that says something very different. All of which is why, as I said above, I think there is a racial component to all of this. Taking a page from John McCain, "That one" in the White House doesn't respect the nation, "That one" and his wife don't respect their jobs, "That one" and his wife don't act as role models like all the other Presidents and First Ladies we've had and are different, and you little girls don't dress right and act right and don't have class or respect and you all are just too different, too.
And it was all over pardoning a turkey.
And left out of the apology was no mention by Ms. Lauten of being sorry for publicly telling two young girls that their parents aren't good role models to them. Because I don't think she feels sorry about about.
By the way, when it comes down to the apology, I have a feeling that the two girls weren't too hurt by what Elizabeth Lauten wrote, and if they even saw it they probably just thought she was another stupid, boring adult telling them how to act and what to wear. Though her parents were probably annoyed at a professional political operative taking off on their children.
Which in the end brings us to the video that brought this all about.
I was going to show the event at the beginning of this article here, but decided to hold it off until the end. I figured that how the two little girls actually acted at the Turkey Pardoning is totally beside the point to what Ms. Lauten wrote and supposedly apologized about. Even if they were rude (they weren't), they were still 13-year-old and 16-year-old girls -- who have been remarkably exemplary for six years in the highest public spotlight. So, in addressing Elizabeth Lauten, the video was secondary. Close to unnecessary even.
But now, all that said, if you want you can see below for yourself. And what you see will be two young girls bored by a stupid event and by their dad having to make stupid turkey jokes. And yet they are thoroughly polite. That part runs for about 90 seconds -- and then you might want to jump to the 5:30 mark for when their dad asks if they'd like to pet the turkey and see how a real teenage girl reacts. Hint: the answer is that she acts like a teenage girl.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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