On “Showing a Little Class.”

Aine Greaney
Dec 8, 2014 · 3 min read

“Try showing a little class,” wrote Elizabeth Lauten in her Facebook post to Sasha and Malia Obama about their demeanor and facial expressions during the 67th annual turkey pardoning event at the White House.

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Since that posting, Lauten, the communications director for Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher (Tenn.), has resigned her position. But not before she got a thorough whipping behind the social media wood shed for what many saw as racially-tinged and sexist commentary. Others accused her of committing that journalist’s or political-commentator’s (neither of which accurately defines her role) no-no: Don’t build a career on the backs of children—and that includes our president’s kids.

Show some class. It’s such an old-timey directive that sits just north of Emily Post’s etiquette rules and well south of belching in the boardroom.

Yet, for all the self- or career-development manuals out there, for all those books that tell us to lean in or move the cheese or color our parachutes, nobody has ever penned, The 21st Century Person’s Guide To Showing Some Class.

Why is this?

For one thing, I suspect that the “showing” or “having class” concept smacks of that other “class,” as in social class, as in socio-economic groupings (“America’s shrinking middle class”). Most of the time, it’s not the actual socio-economics that rankle, but the nudge-wink inferences, the racial, national and ethnic groups that we auto-associate with each social class.

But “showing or having some class” has little or nothing to do with what we report on our census forms. I know some impoverished folks who display what I would call great class. Ditto for some highly educated people with a fat investment portfolio. Equally, haven’t we all suffered through meals or cocktail parties or dates with men and women who have—and no offense to our national celebratory bird here — shown less class than one of those gobbling turkeys?

Relax. I’m not turning all Downton Abbey here. This is America, where, at least in the social class department, we’re all equal. Uh-huh.

So let’s get back to that “class” that the Obama girls got dissed for. When it comes to that class, to conducting ourselves with class, all of us are not equal. Far from it.

We have a hard time defining this brand of class, to listing its component parts. Heck, we can’t even appoint our national arbiters — those who are qualified to judge or discern between the classy and the tacky.

It’s like pornography. We can only call it when we see it. Of course, one person’s classy is another person’s tacky. Again, like pornography, our standards and tolerance change from decade to decade and from culture to culture. Ride the subway or scroll through the follow-up commentary to some online newspaper articles, and it’s clear that, these days, “showing class” might be a diminishing attribute.

Speaking of attributes, you probably have your own list of no-class transgressions. I know I have. (Men who wear baseball hats while sitting at the restaurant table, take note. Ditto for you loud cell-phoners.)

It’s tempting to subject Ms. Lauten to the “those in glass houses” adage, or to suggest she … ahem … take her own turn before the “showing class” mirror.

But it might be better to take a closer look at how the paid-for communications business actually works.

Like Ms. Lauten, I work as a communications director. In my past and present positions, posting any content or commentary that my employer has neither sanctioned nor commissioned would get me (justifiably) disciplined or fired.

So I would wager my grandmother’s silver that her commentary was not as free range or of her own volition as she or her now ex-employer would have us believe.

So goes the rather tacky business called partisan politics.

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