Speed Reads

Protected class

Criticizing presidential children has a long, rocky history

A Republican communications pro got in hot water for suggesting on Facebook that first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama lacked class and dressed like they deserved "a spot at a bar" during their father's presidential turkey-pardoning event. The snarky post wasn't a smart career move for Elizabeth Lauten, a former communications staffer for the Republican National Committee and, until Monday, communications director for Rep. Steve Fincher (R-Tenn.). But there are worse things than losing your job, Jaime Fuller reminds us at The Washington Post.

When Harry Truman's daughter Margaret got a poor review for singing with the National Symphony Orchestra, Truman wrote the Washington Post critic, threatening, "I never met you, but if I do you'll need a new nose and plenty of beefsteak." George W. Bush outsourced his outrage to press secretary Ari Fleischer when first daughters Barbara and Jenna Bush were busted for underage drinking in 2001. "I would urge all of you to very carefully think through how much you want to pursue this," Fleischer told the press, menacingly.

Some presidential children really are pretty outrageous — Alice Roosevelt (pictured), Teddy's daughter, wore a snake to parties, smoked in public, ran up gambling debts, and said she felt "sheer rapture" when William McKinley was assassinated, paving the way for her father to become president. Presidents are fair game, but generally speaking their young children are considered off-limits, at least in theory.

"Avoiding saying stuff about presidential kids has not been America's strong suit," Fuller writes, with dirty laundry aired in the press since at least 1887. That's even though "presidents usually try to keep their children away from spotlight," she notes, or maybe because of it. "It's human nature to be curious about the stuff you're told to avert your eyes from." But it's not always a good idea. Read more about critiqued presidential progeny at The Washington Post.