It is a typical tradition held in high regard across the Atlantic: On one day, sometime in November, the President of the United States assembles the world’s media and announces his pardon of…a Thanksgiving turkey. What may appear as a frankly mundane quirk of the festive season in the United States has led to a minor firestorm this year. Why? Because of a remark made by President Barack Obama during the turkey-pardoning ceremony? No, it’s because of two minor participants in the whole ritual – namely the President’s daughters, Sasha and Malia. Quite evidently, they didn’t really enjoy the occasion and did seem somewhat bored. But they had done nothing so egregious as to merit the kind of telling-off that they were about to receive. Said admonition was not provided by either parent, but by a congressional staffer for a Republican Congressman from Tennessee. The staffer, Elizabeth Lauten went off the deep end when she felt able to lecture the girls in the following terms.
“Dear Sasha and Malia, I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family. Try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play. 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 […] Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar”
Where does Miss Lauten get the impression that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama don’t seem to “respect their positions very much”? Alright, before we all start reveling in this full-frontal attack against the children of the President – and the chilling effect that has on politics in general, let’s examine Miss Lauten’s claims. The First Lady’s work for wounded war veterans and against child obesity has been widely noted and praised – with her popularity ratings cutting across party lines, and being higher than her husband’s.
Meanwhile, the President (despite Miss Lauten’s protestations to the contrary) is no slacker either. Well, that is unless you wish to dismiss a fall in unemployment from 9.8% on Inauguration Day 2009 to 5.9% this October, the strongest six-month stretch of economic growth since 2003, cutting the deficit by half, the Dow Jones Index up 111% since Inauguration Day, corporate profits up by 174%, +3.9% GDP growth in the last quarter alone and consumer confidence being up. Oh, and the small matter of killing Osama bin Laden, decimating al-Qaida, running a security policy that allows no one to hang “soft on terrorism” around Obama’s neck, signing and ratifying the New START Treaty with Russia, expanding healthcare to millions of previously uninsured Americans (of which 7.1 million have already signed up) and cutting middle-class taxes (with those taxes being at historic lows) and signing a landmark carbon reduction treaty with China. And all of this despite years of obstruction and non-cooperation by the Republican Party – and only taking less than 25% of the vacation days that President Bush took during the exact same period in his Administration. As if that weren’t enough, in terms of jobs, growth and investment, Obama is outperforming Republican icon Ronald Reagan.
Yes, that’s what someone who doesn’t respect his responsibilities as President of the United States looks like – to today’s Republican Party and its echo chamber.
Cult of Incivility
But I’m sure Miss Lauten knows these things. She’s a communications professional – which now, that I think of it, is quite ironic. Surely she would be able to predict the impact of her words and the context in which they were spoken. She has now resigned from her position, rightly so – for her actions have contributed to the already poisonous discourse in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Fools shouldn’t be suffered easily, and Miss Lauten certainly built a rather a solid case for her own retirement. On a side note, her employer, Republican congressman Steven Fincher has been curiously silent about the whole affairs – when a personal apology to the President would probably do the trick. But then that’s not really the overarching problem here.
The real problem lies elsewhere. It lies in the attempt by the Republican Party to delegitimize this President, whether for reasons of policy, politics or race. And the opposition Republicans have promoted a climate in which it is perfectly alright to show disrespect toward the President, whether through such maladroit attacks as the one mounted by Miss Lauten, calling the President a liar in the middle of a major speech before Congress, feeding conspiracy theories (with Republicans more likely to believe them) about his religion or place of birth, ignoring the President’s contribution in a major national security success, taking quotes out of context, using racial code words or outright lying. Let alone the shutdown of government by the Republicans, the debunked (and false) Benghazi “Affair”. Sadly, in the United States, even blatant falsehoods seem to be protected by the First Amendment in a political context. Alas, that’s another story altogether. And yet, the President won election to the office with clear popular mandates – twice.
The point is this: This is not about Obama’s daughters, a Thanksgiving turkey or the like. No, in a week, in which a black teenager’s death was essentially left untried in the state of Missouri, a Republican communications professional felt it necessary to lecture the First Family on appropriate behaviour in the White House – as if they were somehow in need of lessons, alien or foreign. The drive for power has completely misguided the Republican Party, and could very well come back to haunt it when it recaptures the White House.
One last thought: Curiously, no conservative commentator felt the need to lecture the Bushs about their parenting after daughters Jenna and Barbara got arrested for underage drinking. Hypocrisy much?