The Buck Stops There
As you may have read, Elizabeth Lauten (about who I wrote yesterday) resigned from her position as communications director for Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN). It may surprise you, though, that I'm sorry she resigned. Critical though my comments were, it should be noted that nowhere in my piece did I call for her to lose her job.
Far more notable is what's gotten overlooked and is missing in all this, that has next to nothing to do with Ms. Lauten. More on that in a moment.
But first, to be clear, it was pretty obvious that this is where the story was headed. But she did something stupid and smarmy, and I don't think that should inherently be a fireable offense. We all do things that are stupid once in a while, and even I suspect smarmy on occasion. And as far as stupid and smarmy -- and craven go, it didn't come close to the depth of the pigheaded things that Rush Limbaugh once called 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton. (Not that Rush Limbaugh should be held to the standard of what's fireable...) That's not an excuse for bad behavior, just a perspective to keep reactions in proper focus. And it also doesn't mean the posting and faux-apology should be ignored, since it's highly deserving of harsh criticism, but rather that's up to his boss to decide the proper reprimand. Ask her to do some community service, take away her Facebook privileges, suspend her with pay for a week, whatever, the congressman's choice, And then it's up to the voters of his district to decide if the reprimand fit her actions. And to see if she really, truly did actually learn a lesson from all her prayer and purported soul-searching.
If anyone is going to get fired or quit, it shouldn't be for posting something stupid, but for being really bad at their job. I don't know if Elizabeth Lauten is really bad at her job, I just know she had a really bad day. But in the end, she was let go not because she said something idiotic and offensive, as most people probably think, but rather because she was dead-weight and had to be thrown overboard by her boss. Because the reality is that when you're someone's communication director, and you've become the face for political cyberbullying of a child, you can't be the person delivering your boss's messages. Had she been in any other position, even chief of staff, she might possibly have been able to hold on to her job. But the communications director? No way. Every press release and public statement coming from Rep. Fincher would be out of her mouth. And so for anyone on the right chastising liberals for hounding her out of office, sorry, this was her boss's decision, and the only one he could really make. And the one you'd probably make. You can't have Elizabeth Lauten speaking for you. And it was her own doing.
There's another reason, though, it's unfortunate she lost her job. As Nell Minow wrote elsewhere, "I can't help thinking it will just make her feel victimized instead of chastened." Elizabeth Lauten resigning will probably make those who support her words feel victimized, as well. And by "her words," I don't just mean being smarmy about a couple of young girls, but about saying, that the President of the United States and First Lady "don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter..." There are likely a lot of people in the congressman's district who support those words, and they're the ones probably feeling their heroine was victimized, as well. And that's the last thing you want to see flourish. Making martyrs of small-minded ideologues does a disservice to martyrdom.
In the end, there's one thing missing from this whole affair, from Facebook posting, faux-apology and resignation. And that's a word from her boss, Rep. Fincher (R-TN). You think there'd be something. Anything. Just come up with, say, "Elizabeth Lauten has always been a wonderful and trusted staffer, but she knows she crossed a line that has caused much hurt, and I accept her resignation with deep regret that a fine, God-fearing friend who loves America did something she knows in her heart she shouldn't have." There, that was easy. And it gets to mention God, loyalty and patriotism. And it doesn't even say she was wrong about anything or what her "mistake" was. For all we'd know, the mistake was saying it out loud. And it also carefully avoids any reference to how the first-bumping First Lady and "That one" don't respect America and having to contradict that.
But nothing. Total silence from Rep. Stephen Fincher, who's really the only one who matters here, since he has the official vote and power. Not a word. The implication of his silence, of course, is that he doesn't want to criticize Ms. Lauten, since he seemingly supports all that she said. That might not be the case, but unless he says something to the contrary it's all we have to go on. And so we just get silence.
But then we shouldn't be surprised. On his website here, Rep. FIncher only has three items listed on the homepage under "News" going back for three months. (It's worth remembering, while seeing this paucity of news out of his office that his communication director at the time was...Elizabeth Lauten. So, perhaps we should give another thought to that whole, "good at her job" thing.) Anyway, there are just three bits of news coming from the congressman's office during the last three months. And those are --
Criticism of President Obama over immigration.
A statement on the Ebola Virus. (I'm guessing he's against it.)
And...and...okay, are you ready? --
Good news! He's not against it...!! Well, publicly, at least.
Interestingly, in an incredibly whimsical touch of irony, what he does say about Rosh Hashanah is -- "It is a time of great reflection, repentance, and renewal for millions of Jews worldwide."
Okay, don't tell me that God doesn't have a sense of humor.
And any day now, I do expect a new statement from Rep. Fincher that explains, "When I said 'Jews worldwide', what I of course meant was "...and House staffers,' too."
Finally, there's one other thing worth noting from Rep. Fincher's press release. If you look closely, you'll see that the district he represents is Frog Jump. It doesn't mean anything substantive. I just think it's nice when the pieces of the Puzzle of Life fit together no nicely.
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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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