Since when are we all this easily offended? Far be it from me to act in President Obama’s defence, but I am not offended by this:
President Obama, in his taping with Jay Leno Thursday afternoon, attempted to yuk it up with the funnyman, and ended up insulting the disabled. Towards the end of his approximately 40-minute appearance, the president talked about how he’s gotten better at bowling and has been practicing in the White House bowling alley. He bowled a 129, the president said. “That’s very good, Mr. President,” Leno said sarcastically. It’s “like the Special Olympics or something,” the president said.
Call me callous, but here’s why. Though I remain unsure as to why our political leaders should show up on comedy shows–something about prepping funny lines doesn’t go with, oh say, staving off terrorist attack–once on a show with someone like Jay Leno, it’s bound to be all about the banter, and we can’t assess each quip behind steely politically-correct visors, brandishing our laser beams to strike at the first offence.
Then there’s the fact that I hardly think Obama meant anything at all by it, other than to be self-deprecating. I am quite sure a Special Olympian can bowl much better than I, but if I made the comparison, it would be to make fun of myself, not a disabled person. And if we can’t make fun of ourselves, then what can we do?
The Special Olympics are important. And the people who compete–valuable and important. But what about “throwing like a girl” jokes? Are those out too? (I, er, throw like a girl. But swim like Michael Phelps!–in my mind…)
Patricia adds: Sorry, Andrea. I have to disagree with you again. I don’t know how “offended” I am by Barack Obama’s facile humour. “I am offended” is an over-used complaint. And the fact is that, as a pro-life mother of a child with Down Syndrome, I don’t have high expectations of Obama, so what he has to say is unlikely to affect my feelings one way or another. But making jokes at the expense of the marginalized is uncharitable, to say the least. Actually “marginalization” is over-used as well, but in this case, boy, does it apply! As I’ve pointed out before (I know, a few times) 8 out of 10 children diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. (That’s a conservative estimate.) I can’t think of any form of discrimination harsher than that. Of course, if you’re radically pro-abortion, this is not a form of discrimination that you accept as real.
But what about radically diminished access to life-saving health care for children with disabilities? Surely that is a form of discrimination most people would be willing to acknowledge as such. Here’s a telling little anecdote for you: “Nine-year-old Daisy [born with a “broken” 21st chromosome and severe disabilities] entered hospital in 2005 with a tooth infection, which turned septic. The hospital failed to supply the most basic medical care, giving Daisy neither food nor liquid in sufficient quantities. When she began gasping for breath the hospital told the parents that she would be transferred to intensive care, but this never happened.” Daisy subsequently died of a pulmonary haemorrhage. (From The Sunday Times, rch 1, 2009, “Ivan Cameron and the meaning of life” by Dominic Lawson; the whole article is well worth reading.)
Despite the best efforts of organizations like the Special Olympics, people with disabilities still live in a brave new world that is not interested in the less than perfect. To make that same group the butt of idle banter intended to bolster the “cool” factor of a politician is contemptible. And for that, Barrack Obama should be called on the carpet.
I know that he apologized almost immediately and I am trying to accept that at face value, but it seems to me that gaffes like this are a result of a complete failure of imagination. If you’ve ever imagined that you would be a parent of a child with special needs, you probably don’t find yourself making off-hand comments like this. But I suspect that in Barack Obama’s world, only people like Sarah Palin find themselves actually cheering on their children at the Special Olympics.
Brigitte just wonders: What do you think would have happened if George W. Bush had made the same “joke”?
Tanya adds: Had Obama made the comment, “I throw like a girl,” he would not be living it down too easily right now. I’m not one to get up in arms about this sort of thing, but if you’re going to be a politician (president of the US, no less) you should at least be able to manage basic political correctness.
He might swear in the privacy of his home, but it’s doubtful he’d ever let slip an F-sharp on TV. Obama doesn’t have a solid enough respect for the mentally challenged to hold his tongue when a joke like that comes to mind. Offended-shmoffended. But it’s telling. Very telling.
Andrea again: Surely, had a Republican made this comment, a thousand angry commentators would have swooped down like buzzards. Look, I don’t desire to be calculating and compass-less like Obama. But I also don’t want want to be like those infernally wounded politically correct types–tsking tsking at every word. I believe we’ve hit a point in this culture where whether you can “play politically correct” matters more than what you do. (Of course, for Obama what he does and what he says appear to match. And that’s not a compliment.)by