As you may have heard, Republican congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten was recently forced to resign amid outrage over a Facebook post in which she accused President Obama’s teen daughters of dressing like bar floozies and urged them to “show a little class.” While the Obamas have done a good job of keeping 16-year-old Malia and 13-year-old Sasha out of the public eye, this certainly isn’t the first time they’ve been attacked by mean adults.
In 2010, President Obama told reporters that Malia had asked him if he’d managed to “plug” the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, inspiring Glenn Beck to go after the then-13-year-old. “That’s the level of their education,” he blustered. “That they’re coming to — they’re coming to daddy and saying, ‘Daddy, did you plug the hole yet?’” And last year, a Fox News host speculated about what Obama’s support for Plan B meant about Malia’s sex life. “Are they gonna put her on birth control?” asked Andrea Tantaros. “Because he’s very concerned with contraceptives and pharmaceuticals that are going in the mouths of everybody else’s 15-year-old daughter.” Meanwhile, the NRA ran a slightly scary ad calling Obama a “hypocrite” for allowing his daughters to have armed security.
As many of us know, being a teen girl is crappy even when you’re not expected to reflect well on the most powerful man in the world while worrying about his political enemies jumping all over you on cable news (or on late-night shows or online). Of course, almost no one can truly relate to Malia and Sasha’s situation, but now is probably a good time to devote some thought and send some healing energy to the four women who can: Amy Carter, Chelsea Clinton, and the Bush twins.
Jenna and Barbara Bush
The Bush twins were 19 when their father was first elected president — old enough to avoid spending any of their adolescence in the White House, but still too young to drink legally. Within a couple of months, Jenna had picked up a misdemeanor charge for having a beer in an Austin bar. (She also sent the Secret Service to get her wasted, underage boyfriend out of jail.) Shortly after, Jenna was busted at a different Austin bar for using her older friend’s ID, while Barbara was cited for drinking a margarita.
The only even slightly unusual thing about this behavior was that they got caught (and the Secret Service element), but, as Jay Leno said, “When it’s the lead story on the six o’clock news, I don’t know how you not comment on it.”
Though the girls quickly became more careful about where and how they got drunk, it took until W.’s second term for the night jokes about Barbara and Jenna “Anheuser” Bush to subside: “President Bush is being criticized because his inaugural celebration cost $40 million,” observed Conan O’Brien in 2005. “When asked about it, the president said, ‘Sorry, but my daughters insisted on an open bar.’” Even their grandmother, the other Barbara Bush, got in on the fun, telling Newsweek that she had to get rid of a TransAm she kept in Kennebunkport because, “That car was an invitation for one of the grandchildren to get arrested. And that’s all we need, is for another one of them … ”
Oh, and then there was the time that Maxim very creepily Photoshopped the then-23-year-old twins’ heads onto a pair of lingerie-clad bodies.
Chelsea spent almost all of her teenage years in the White House, turning 13 just a month after her family moved in. While Bill and Hillary tried to make their daughter “off limits” to the media, it didn’t take long for Mike Myers to find himself apologizing for a Saturday Night Live sketch during which his “Wayne’s World” character declared, “If [the Gore girls] were a president, they’d be Babe-raham Lincoln … Chelsea — well, she’s a babe in development.” “We felt, upon reflection, that if it was in any way hurtful, it wasn’t worth it,” said SNL producer Lorne Michaels, who had the bit removed from reruns. “She’s a kid, a kid who didn’t choose to be in public life.”
Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Chelsea were probably the most infamous: He compared the middle schooler to a dog at least twice. Of course, John McCain got similarly nasty at a 1998 fund-raiser, asking the crowd, “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?” Why? “Because her father is Janet Reno.” Cruel and homophobic.
“You know, I really find it hilarious when they make fun of me,” said Bill Clinton in 1993. “But I think you gotta be pretty insensitive to make fun of an adolescent child. I think there is something pretty off-center with people who do that. But I’ve determined that I can’t control their behavior, so I’ll just have to control our response to it. We really work hard on making sure that Chelsea doesn’t let other people define her sense of her own self-worth. I think the world would be a lot better off if more people were to define themselves in terms of their own standards and values and not what other people said or thought about them. It’s tough when you are an adolescent because peer opinion and other people’s opinion become more important. But I think she’ll be OK.” Of course, the Bill jokes eventually drowned out the ones about Chelsea, but it’s unlikely she took much comfort in that.
Many years later, Chelsea brought up Limbaugh’s comments about her appearance while meeting with another one of his targets, Sandra Fluke. “Thankfully I had grown up in public life and knew that having thick skin was a survival skill,” she said. Watch out for Charlotte “Another Liberal Crybaby” Clinton Mezvinsky, who at just 2-months-old already has skin like a goddamn tank.
Amy had it pretty bad. She was just 9 when her dad began his presidential term in 1977, back when people were less sensitive about children’s feelings and privacy. For example, Americans found Amy’s request for a Christmas chainsaw so weird that the White House began telling reporters that she’d actually asked for a “train set.” She often brought books to keep herself entertained at state dinners, a habit that prompted a German reporter to call her “a lamentably spoiled, perpetually tired, whining brat with miserable manners.”
Jimmy Carter made a point of sending his daughter to a predominantly black public school, a choice that resulted in her being portrayed as a clueless, privileged dweeb in a now-very-difficult-to-find SNL skit (and this photo of her looking completely miserable as the press swarms her on her way to class). While addressing the Chelsea-related outcry in the ‘90s, Michael’s admitted that his show was even “rougher” on little Amy, not that anyone really bothered to complain.
Like many Cold War–era kids, Amy was worried about the threat of nuclear warfare. When asked about the issue during a 1980 presidential debate with Ronald Reagan, her father brought up her concerns, saying, “I think to close out this discussion, it would be better to put into perspective what we’re talking about. I had a discussion with my daughter, Amy, the other day, before I came here, to ask her what the most important issue was. She said she thought nuclear weaponry — and the control of nuclear arms.” Unfortunately, viewers weren’t charmed by the idea of the president consulting his then-13-year-old daughter on life-and-death foreign policy matters, and the response was cited as one of the reasons Carter lost the debate.
Even after Reagan was elected to replace her dad, Amy couldn’t catch a break:
After a few years out of the spotlight, Amy attended Brown and reemerged as a political activist, getting herself arrested at an anti-apartheid demonstration. Later, she was charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct for participating in an anti-CIA protest and wound up on trial alongside the Youth International Party founder Abbie Hoffman. (She was acquitted.) Asked about the media’s interest in her role in the case, she said, “It’s bad for me but good for the group.” Meanwhile, Hoffman told People, “Amy has the best political instincts I’ve ever seen. And she handles the media better than I do. I’ve read all her interviews, and I’ve never seen a mistake.” Amy then finished college, went to graduate school, and ceased doing interviews entirely.