The On-Again, Off-Again Rule About Criticizing Politicians’ Children

by Jim Geraghty

About a year ago, the Washington Post ran a piece blasting Elizabeth Lauten, then the communications director for Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, for a Facebook Post that criticized Obama’s daughters. The Post wrote several stories on Lauten, the paper’s “social justice reporter” dug into Lauten’s writings for her college newspaper, and Chris Cillizza declared she had “the worst week in Washington.”

This week, that same Washington Post posted a cartoon depicting Ted Cruz’s daughters – aged five and seven – as trained monkeys.

The Post’s Fred Hiatt says the cartoon was inappropriate and pulled it, but the cartoonist doesn’t sound very contrite:

Why, if you were cynical, you might think that some people over there think that only Democratic politicians’ children are out-of-bounds for criticism and mockery.

“If you don’t like the president, fine. Criticize his policies, his actions, his decisions, but don’t pick on his kids or say he’s a bad dad because his girls rolled their eyes at his jokes,” wrote Diana Reese back in November 2014. She went on to lament Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Chelsea Clinton during her father’s presidency and Amy Carter.

But some of us remember the Bush daughters and their issue with underage drinking on the cover of People magazine in 2001, when they were 19, and Julia Styles imitating Jenna Bush on Saturday Night Live. And we remember David Letterman joking about Sarah Palin’s daughter getting “knocked up” by Alex Rodriguez at a Yankee game.

And we remember the Post’s Robin Givhan writing an entire column about the clothes of John Roberts’ children:

There they were — John, Jane, Josie and Jack — standing with the president and before the entire country. The nominee was in a sober suit with the expected white shirt and red tie. His wife and children stood before the cameras, groomed and glossy in pastel hues — like a trio of Easter eggs, a handful of Jelly Bellies, three little Necco wafers. There was tow-headed Jack — having freed himself from the controlling grip of his mother — enjoying a moment in the spotlight dressed in a seersucker suit with short pants and saddle shoes. His sister, Josie, was half-hidden behind her mother’s skirt. Her blond pageboy glistened. And she was wearing a yellow dress with a crisp white collar, lace-trimmed anklets and black patent-leather Mary Janes.

In other words, we remember lots of times that Republican politicians’ kids were mocked, ridiculed, or criticized, and nowhere near as much outrage as the Facebook post of a previously Congressional staffer. And we start to suspect that a lot of people in media don’t actually think that politicians’ kids should be off-limits; we conclude they really believe that only the children of politicians they like are off-limits.

Politicians’ kids ought to be off limits. This goes for the Obama daughters. This goes for the Bush daughters — or at least until one became a Today show correspondent, and Chelsea Clinton, at least until she started joining Brian Williams for adventures in journalistic excellence.

Really, if you’re a Ted Cruz critic, the very best you can do is contend his daughters are trained monkeys? If you indeed think that is the most pertinent, most important and most cutting critique you can make… have you suffered a head injury lately?

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