Many years ago, someone asked Lyndon Johnson about the difference between Democrats and Republicans.
“We don’t hate their presidents,” said LBJ, a Democrat.
“Or their presidents’ wives,” added the late Rep. Andy Jacobs, D-Indiana, some years later during the partisan bitterness of Bill Clinton’s presidency.
And, now, we apparently can include their presidents’ children in the mix.
The communications director for U.S. Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Tennessee, unleashed a maelstrom by criticizing President Obama’s daughters, Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13, for their behavior and attire at the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardoning.
Elizabeth Lauten wrote a scathing Facebook post about the Obama girls appearing bored at the ceremony.
Lauten lectured the first daughters that they should “try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play.” She also suggested that the girls’ somewhat short skirts were more appropriate for a bar – a nice touch, given that the Obama daughters are under-age – than a public ceremony.
And, of course, Lauten had to unload on Barack and Michelle Obama as parents.
“Then again, your mother and father don’t respect their positions, or the nation for that matter. So I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the ‘good role model’ department. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you.”
Lauten’s post provoked criticism and then anger almost as soon as it went up. She since has pulled down the post and, begrudgingly, has issued an apology.
She’s on her way to being a mean-spirited footnote in the histories yet to be written about an angry era in American history – and that’s about all the attention, as a person, she deserves.
If Lauten were the only American around bathing in and spewing such vitriol, her bad manners poorly disguised as a sense of moral superiority wouldn’t be worth discussing.
But she isn’t.
Lauten wrote what she wrote because she lives and works in an environment in which saying the nastiest things about people with whom one disagrees – and, apparently, their children – not only are tolerated but often is encouraged. We live now in a world in which denigrating opponents in the most scurrilous terms is the norm.
Maybe in LBJ’s day the offenses were confined to one side of the political divide – although I doubt it – but they certainly aren’t now.
When George W. Bush was president, his wife, Laura, may have been spared serious sniping, but the couple’s twin daughters became the focus of the same sort of nastiness. We saw reminders of that after Lauten’s outburst, when Twitter users posted photos of one of Bush’s daughters drinking at a college party and of both girls yawning at public events.
Somehow the folks upset with Lauten seem to have convinced themselves that two wrongs equal a right.
The fact that this latest outburst of churlishness came during the Thanksgiving season just adds to the irony.
That uniquely American holiday started as a celebration of the fact that people of different races from different cultures with different systems of belief could sit down at a common table and celebrate their fellowship. At one time, being able to listen to – and hear – people with whom one disagreed was something for which we were thankful, an act of faith in the idea of America itself.
Now it seems that Thanksgiving is just an opportunity for the political class to pick on children.
I suppose there’s no way to get the most strident among us to see presidents and other American politicians with whom the fire-breathers disagree as mistaken rather than incarnations of evil, but, in anticipation of a new year, could we make a resolution?
Could we at least give the kids a break?