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With political families, some things should always be off-limits

Let's start first with Chelsea Clinton and "Wayne's World."

At the beginning of the Clinton presidency, Dana Carvey and Mike Myers took the opportunity to make jokes about her  looks on their popular "Wayne's World" segment of "Saturday Night Live."

The angry howls -- mine among them -- were deafening for a simple reason: It was unforgivable. They could argue all they want that they did it because they were in character as two teen numbskulls in a basement pretending to have a cable access show, but that's not what they were; they were professional TV sketch satirists and comics who should have known how loathsome it was to mock a 12-year old girl just because she is a president's daughter.

They were too popular to have been fired from "Saturday Night Live" but if they had been, I would have been fine with it. The minimal sensitivity that God gave a cockroach should have told them that the appearance of 12-year old girls is off-limits and that presidential daughters are not public figures, except by happenstance. They deserve protection and respect and privacy from anyone over the age of 18.

So, for that matter, does Chris Collins' wife, Mary. Anyone who watched Stephen Colbert's late night show eight days ago saw Colbert tee off on the Clarence congressman for his explanation of why he was the only Republican member of congress available on Valentine's Day morning to CNN. Collins had said that it was because his colleagues all were probably home having breakfast with their wives.

At which point, Christine Baranski popped up pretending to be a fictional and nameless version of Mary Collins who had nothing to do with the real woman. At the end of the skit, she was seen tipsily consuming a couple glasses of wine.

Uh-uh. I defer to no one in my affection for Baranski under almost any circumstance. I liked very much her new take on her old role on "The Good Wife" in the new series "The Good Fight," now available on CBS' All-Access.

I've liked Baranski, in fact, since reviewing her several decades ago in a Studio Arena Theater comedy called "Lady of the Diamond" which co-starred John Goodman. She was sensational back then and merely waiting for big opportunities to prove it.

What she did for Colbert could not have been more off-limits. Collins was ripe for any satiric savagery Colbert could invent. He's a politician and he said what he said. His wife, no matter what her husband talks about, still deserved all the privacy in the world. You don't get to make up an entirely fictional wife for him and make her the butt of jokes when there is a real one who had nothing whatsoever to do with the show's joke.

She deserved her privacy.

I've known and covered enough political wives to know that, as a class, they have one of the worst jobs in America: They're open to all the ugliest scrutiny of their spouse, but they enjoy none of their spouse's offsetting prerogatives. At worst, they're as caged and defenseless as a zoo animal.

Whatever Mrs. Collins may or may not choose, of her own volition, to do in public is open to public scrutiny. The comments of her husband don't make that cut.

We're seeing some of the same problem with the more complex case of Melania Trump and her 10-year old son Barron, two people caught up in our American insistence on feasting on presidential families. Mrs. Trump is already famous for publicly refusing as much of a traditional "first lady" role as she safely can, in order to be home with her son while he goes to school in New York. What that costs taxpapers is a legitimate subject. But that's all.

The kid's public behavior under circumstances that would be excruciatingly boring for most of us has been joked about disgustingly by an SNL writer (who was subsequently fired) and speculated on by Rosie O'Donnell, along with criticism of the Trumps' insistence on privacy about him.

To which I say, with all due respect to Rosie, that's hooey. Anything the Trumps want to do to protect their son from scrutiny is just and proper. He and his mother are private people who are captives of our obscene back fence curiosity about every member of presidential families, especially those things which prove that all the wealth, fame and beauty in the world can't keep you from ordinary human vulnerability.

We all know that. They deserve to enjoy every inch of privacy they can achieve in a world that has every right to know and say whatever it pleases about the president.

If Melania Trump is going to do or say something in public or promote her clothing line, she's fair game. Otherwise, her avoidance of "first lady" roles ought to be respected as much as possible.

The weird thing about the political Wonderland all of us Alices are now wandering through is that its turbulence makes it harder for satirists and comedians to be funny.

Despite the notable success to the contrary of "Saturday Night Live," few of their impersonations offer a chance at real shelf life -- not even Alec Baldwin as Trump.

The informational tornado of the current world is so violent that the minute a joker or satirist tries to make a point, it becomes old news. New information can make it look out of touch. Topical "humor" depends on topics that stick around long enough to be laughed at.

Which means that the people who stick around will be wide open for satiric laughs. But what they do, as well as everything else going on, will push comedians and satirists farther out into Jon Stewart and John Oliver territory -- anger and outrage at events in a world where people have been told that the press is the "enemy of the people."

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