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Ranting GOP Staffer's Resignation a Good 1st Step

Photograph by Getty Images

I had to re-read the vicious, ad hominem comments made by a senior staffer to a Republican congressman before the shock passed over me. Elizabeth Lauten, communications director to U.S. Rep. Steve Ficher, R-Tennessee, lashed out at Sasha and Malia Obama on her public Facebook page Saturday. The backlash was swift.

Lauten’s unusually personal, cruel — and public — rant against the Obama daughters crossed the line of professionalism. She is resigning. That's what should happen.

Lauten’s post about the First Daughters has gone viral, after a reporter for "The Root" posted her remarks on Twitter. Hashtag #FireElizabethLauten quickly pushed the issue to the forefront of social media.

Here are just a few of Lauten’s offensive comments:

"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.”

But, Lauten didn't stop there:

“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 short in the “good role model” department … act like being in the White House matters to you.”

As an African American mom of a 14-year-old daughter, the First Family is often discussed in our home. We are proud of the Harvard- and Princeton-educated parents and their two beautiful girls, often dressed stylishly in J. Crew. Being 14, sometimes my own daughter rolls her eyes at my continual reminders of the progress our nation has made on the difficult subject of race relations by electing President Obama. My family, like many other American families, has genuine admiration for the First Daughters, whether or not we agree with their dad’s policies or political party.

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The images of the strikingly beautiful First Family, with their two young daughters, always makes me proud. This is the imagery I want my kids to see. Politics aside, the election (and re-election) of the first African American president is a historic first and an incredibly important step forward for the nation.

As a former senior aide to a California state senator and a Los Angeles city councilman, I know there’s an unspoken rule among staffers: never do anything to embarrass the elected official (your boss!). Lauten crossed the line with her atrocious behavior, embarrassing her boss and undermining her own credibility. This blunder cost her a job and possibly her career, although that is unlikely since she's a former Republican Party staff member.

Lauten’s uncensored, rambling comments aimed at two teens violated the time-honored tradition the press and Washington insiders have always adhered to, which is to respect the privacy of the children of the President of the United States, Democratic or Republican. Sure, late-night comedians poke fun at First Families. That’s their prerogative. But Lauten had a higher standard to uphold as a senior member of a congressional staff. When she spoke, it was assumed she was speaking for her boss, particularly when her rant was posted on her public Facebook page.

Lauten is learning the hard way. After removing the post, she has announced she is working on her resignation. She also issued an apology and made her Facebook page private. As CNN, USA Today and numerous other publications reported on the story, Lauten was clearly the one who was “coming up short in the role model department.” Lauten was the person who needed to “respect her position.” Sasha and Malia Obama are two adorable, poised teenage girls who roll their eyes at their dad’s jokes. I’m pleased to see they are normal teen girls navigating their life in the public eye like any other girls their age would do. Let’s not forget, at ages 13 and 16, how very young they are. Were any of us much different as teens? I doubt it.

Lauten violated the cardinal rule of politics. Actually, she’s violated more than one unspoken rule. Lauten humiliated herself, her boss and many members of the public, who pay her salary through taxes. Lauten now has the opportunity to look in the mirror and recognize that her apology is only partly finished. Lauten should live by her own words, “rise to the occasion” and issue a private apology to Sasha and Malia. If she really wants to show respect, the note should be handwritten on pretty stationery.

After all, that’s what someone who respects the White House would do.

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