Tuesday, December 2, 2014

"Nothing classy," indeed

By now, everyone has probably heard the story about the Republican congressional aide/communications director who caused a minor uproar by criticizing Malia & Sasha Obama's appearance at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning ceremony, chiding them to "try showing a little class." 

"Nothing classy about Elizabeth Lauten’s criticism of the Obama girls" was the headline on a "She the People" blog post in the Washington Post.

I agreed with the author in just about every respect except one -- and it just happened to be the one sentence that was highlighted on Facebook, of course.  (And since I am still a little hot under the collar a few days after reading this, here goes my rant.)  ;) 

After establishing her credentials as a mother ("Raising teenagers is hard. I know from experience..."), the author goes on to say:
"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."

I may not be a mom -- but I don't think you have to be a mom to recognize that it might not a good idea to publicly (and harshly) criticize the daughters of the President (who didn't ask to be dragged away from their schools & friends in Chicago and thrust into the limelight because of who their dad is). Most people who work in Washington recognize this -- most people who work in communications would certainly recognize this (which, to me -- as someone who worked in corporate communications until just recently -- makes this episode all the more bizarre) -- and those who break that unwritten rule regarding the children of presidents generally suffer as a result. (Including Lauten, who has apparently resigned.)

I may not be a mom -- but I was a teenager once, who certainly rolled her eyes at her parents more than a few times. (Fortunately for me, my dad wasn't president of the United States, and I wasn't on camera. And social media hadn't been invented yet.)  And I know a lot of teenagers, and parents of teenagers. (In a different world, I would have been the parent of a teenager myself right now.)  I've heard the stories. I've watched the eyerolls. I can easily imagine teenaged eyes being rolled in my direction. And I've seen many teenagers at the mall who dress far more provocatively than the Obama girls.

Empathy is not the sole preserve of people with children. You can be childless and extremely empathetic to others. (You may not know exactly what parents are going through, of course -- but that doesn't mean you don't know anything about kids or what they're like.)  You can be a mom (or dad) and still show a lack of empathy when it comes to other people's kids. (And when it comes to writing about people who don't have kids.)  

There may not have been anything classy about Lauten's words -- but I don't think attributing her lack of empathy in this case to her lack of children was particularly classy either.

(Vent over. ;) )


  1. I 100% agree with you.

    That one sentence was uncalled for and unnecessary. Actually, if you think about it, that sentence diminished her argument by associating it with a defensive, personal stance (the "I have children therefore I know what I'm talking about" stance), rather than standing up on its own with logic and balance.

    I also fundamentally disagree with her. "If Lauten were a mom, particularly of teen girls, she'd have a lot more empathy, I suspect." I haven't seen any noticeable increase in empathy in any moms I know - especially any who have teen girls.

  2. It's also worth nothing that the 'mommy wars' certainly shows that not all parents are empathetic to other parents/children. I think we need to start taking parent/non parent out of the equation and just say 'a more empathetic person would realize...' On another note, I was really surprised at her initial criticism of Obama's daughters. While, yes their dads job comes with a higher level of behaviour required of these girls, it wasn't their choice, they're still teenagers and - come on - they can't have a bad day?? I would never have survived my teen years if I was his daughter! People like her would have torn me and my eye rolling, sour face to shreds! Let's just let them be kids...they grow up too fast anyway!

  3. I heard about this last week and was fuming as well! I agree with you that children should be off limits from criticism. I guess that I don't think that not being a jerk to children requires being a parent, it requires being an intelligent, compassionate human being. But then again nothing really surprises me anymore given the current political environment in the United States. I'm glad that Lauten resigned, though I hope she learns a great deal from this experience (her apology seems to indicate that she has a long way to go) and comes out on the other side stronger.

  4. Yeah, the girls should be off limits for the criticism. And I agree, that line was totally unnecessary.

  5. Yeah, the girls should be off limits for the criticism. And I agree, that line was unnecessary.

  6. As the daughter of a father who makes bad jokes and as an eye roller myself, I had no trouble empathizing with the Obama girls. Plus, at age almost 43 I find the turkey pardoning corny, so imagine how uncool it must seem to an adolescent.

    So well said, Loribeth!! I know plenty of people without children who are incredibly compassionate, and plenty who have kids who are a bit slow on the draw with their compassion.

    It seems to me parenthood is not the "good person" credential many hold it up to be.....

  7. Everything you, Mali, Rach, Sarah, Bent Not Broken and Another Dreamer said. Couldn't agree more...

  8. Oh my, I had no idea this was going on. I don't read the news (too depressing), but LOVE LOVE LovE your words.