The Washington cyber cycle: Talk trash, apologize, quit

    It’s great that a repugnant miscreant has opted to bow out – no,  this is not about Bill Cosby quitting the Temple University board – but before we leave Turkeygate in the rear view mirror, let’s ponder what the cyber-snark attack on the First Daughters really says about our warp-speed hyperpartisan culture.

    As you surely know by now, a heretofore obscure Republican apparatchik named Elizabeth Lauten decided yesterday to quit her communications job on Capitol Hill, after rightfully enduring a weekend of ridicule for her Black Friday Facebook post about Sasha and Malia Obama. Even the Mob leaves daughters alone when it assigns a hit job, but apparently this particular Republican miscreant – pounding the keyboard without a rational thought in her head, just like a troll – assumed that Obama’s were fair game. Despite Washington’s unwritten ban on dissing a politician’s kids.

    And thus, last Friday, Lauten – a former “new media political manager” for the Republican National Committee – took it upon herself to lecture Sasha and Malia about their (short) dresses and (bored) deportment at their dad’s annual turkey pardoning ceremony. Because not even a turkey pardoning ceremony is immune from mindless Republican snark:

    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. Nevertheless, stretch yourself. Rise to the occasion. Act like being in the White House matters to you. Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar. And certainly don’t make faces during televised public events.

    Clearly, the daughters think the turkey event is lame. Just like the millions of other teen daughters who think that whatever their dads say and do is lame. (You dads out there know what I’m talking about.) But Lauten apparently saw an opening. By attacking the daughters as bar ‘hos, she could attack the First Couple: “Then again your father and mother 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.”

    All that, from a spokeswoman for the party that has shown this president zero respect from day one – questioning or insinuating about his place of birth, his religion, his patriotism, the whole kitchen sink.

    And as for her line about Barack and Michelle being bad role models, even historian Doug Wead – a Republican, and former White House advisor in both Bush regimes – said the other day, “Whatever your differences with President Obama, you can’t lay a glove on either the president or the First Lady as parents.”

    But hey, Wead is old school. In the new world of anything goes, you can lay a glove on anything. All you need are typing fingers and a momentary impulse – and, presto, a routine display of teen ennui becomes grist for a partisan diss. That’s what social media is for. It’s a vacuum forever begging to be filled. It’s an open invitation for everyone who yearns to show the world that they exist. At its worst (as in Lauten’s case) it’s the very antithesis of thought and reflection.

    Naturally, her thought and reflection came later. Here’s how she apologized, also on Friday (in a post she later deleted): “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager. After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no place in my heart.”

    She “reacted to the article and quickly judged.” There it is, our warp-speed world in a nutshell. How nice it would be (dream on) if only people would take a deep breath and think before they spew. Then they wouldn’t need to enlighten themselves after the damage was done. Indeed, what’s most remarkable about her apology is that she needed “many hours” to recognize the error of her ways. And if God didn’t humble her at prayer time, it’s likely that the condemnatory Twitter hashtag – #elizabethlauten – did the trick.

    Live by social media, die by social media. And yesterday, according to digital metrics, four of the five most-read Washington Post stories were Lauten-related. One of those stories highlighted the fact (unearthed by the online sleuths at Smoking Gun) that Lauten at age 17 was arrested at a department store for shoplifting. I’ll close today by simply quoting the last line in the Smoking Gun story. It’s too delicious to repurpose or paraphrase. It’s also an implicit warning to those who post instant idiocies online, heedless of their own glass houses:

    “Since Lauten was just another teenager caught shoplifting at the mall, it appears unlikely that she was publicly pilloried for her lack of class, nor were her parents criticized as poor role models.”



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal