Monday, March 23, 2009

I Bowl Like a Retard

In last year’s presidential campaign, large chunks of the electorate and many disability advocacy groups were apoplectic that Sarah Palin made clear her advocacy for children with disabilities. She did so from a position of strength: She had a newborn with Down syndrome and a nephew with autism.

As I noted at the time, this was the first time any of the presidential candidates had specifically spotlighted advocacy for people with disabilities. Until Palin’s remarks, the national disability community had been seething over how they had been pointedly ignored.

After Palin’s remarks, they seethed all over again, just for different reasons.

Unfortunately, Palin’s use of the bully pulpit quickly got derailed from a laudable opportunity to advocate for people with disabilities to the gutter of partisan politics. Those politically opposed to Palin, including many disability organizations and researchers, pounced.

They were outraged that she had the temerity to mention disability. Essentially, their rather pitiful arguments were (a) how dare a Republican try to hi-jack disability issues, when the Democrats owned that territory (going back to the Kennedys’ advocacy for people with disabilities in the early 60s)? and (b) Palin was being politically opportunistic, the disability issue a convenient vote-grabbing prop.

There was no quarter given that Palin was genuinely prepared, if elected vice-president, to make this her vice presidential issue.

Perhaps the most vicious responses came from many in academia: the special education researchers and university faculty who, from their lofty perches, gleefully declared Palin’s remarks the confused babble of some Neanderthal hick with an IQ lower than the people she was advocating for.

It gave me a whole new perspective on my profession, who usually go to great lengths to remind us all how impartial they are, and how they know what’s best for people with disabilities.

A colleague at another university even took the time to pass on a hit-piece to a prestigious special education listserv I subscribe to. In that piece, the writer said that in Alaska, there were many others like Palin - “knuckle-dragging” epithet and all.

Fast-forward to last Thursday, and President Obama’s Jay Leno Show derision of people with disabilities, describing his poor bowling skills as something that would be seen at the Special Olympics.

Here’s what the President meant: “I bowl like a retard.”

Criticism of the President has been measured, at best. The listserv I’m on that so viciously went after Palin has been completely silent about President Obama's insult.

Not a word.

And certainly no words taking the President to task.

Here’s the sad truth: President Obama said what he thinks:

People with disabilities are less worthy than the rest of us. They can’t even bowl properly. Or run properly, or think properly, or see properly.

Go to the Special Olympics; see them unable to do things that others do well.

Have a good laugh.

Be thankful you’re not them.

Way to go, Mr. President.


Sheila Page said...

Thank you for bringing this up, Mark. Its painful how blind Obama supporters are. I encourage those who read your blog to go to Youtube and watch Sarah Palin's welcoming address to the participants of the Special Olympics. Keep up the good fight!

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Sheila, thanks so much for stopping by. Unfortunately, we still have an uphill fight to get most people to understand the inherent human worth of people with disabilities. Spread the word!!!

Megan said...

I wondered when you would get to President Obama's remarks. I am in complete agreement with your post. Imagine if George W. Bush had made the same remarks.

william Peace said...

Well said, particularly your take on how disability scholars reacted to Palin.

Gloria Perez-Walker said...

THANK YOU for writing this. I did vote for Obama and am also a disability advocate and the mother of a child with special needs. I was disgusted by his "slip". I am also disgusted by the silence of his supporters who are supposed to be open-minded and who have encouraged so much debate in the past regarding other issues.

I am not so much of a liberal that I think that I have to defend everything that Obama says--or not mention it at all for fear of making him look bad. Oh, and apologizing to the Special Olympics only? Seriously? That is an ORGANIZATION--the comment was insulting to people with disabilities in general, and the Special Olympics is not the face of disability movement! What a nice touch, Mr. Obama, to ask that a couple of people with disabilities come and shoot hoops with you.

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Megan: yes, the double standard is quite clear. All my esteemed professorial colleagues have been deafeningly silent - shame on them as on the biggest sped organization in the world, the Council for Exceoptional Children, who have also stuck their heads in the sand.

William: Yes, quite sickening. The trash from these so-called "elites" about Palin was astonsihing - and not much astoinishes me anymore. If I had made similar comments, but had inserted another identity than Palin, e.g., an identity they hold sacred, I would have been drawn & quartered.

Gloria: Thanks so much for your comments. As always here at Disability Matters, I'm most concerned with how we treat people with disability, irrespective of what peoples' political (or other) affiliations are.

All: Please share & spread the word.

Catherine said...

Dr. Mostert, like everyone else, thank you so much for bringing this up. Being a Special Olympics volunteer, myself, I was floored when I heard this. My first response was that the majority of the participants can bowl and excel in their sport much better than I can, and for that I admire them... and I am a varsity athlete!

It amazes me that Obama, as someone who is constantly in the spotlight, working for "change," has no reservation in making comments like the one he made. And to add icing to the cake, supporters turing a blind eye? No one ever changed anything great by being a bystander.

Dr. Mark Mostert said...

Catherine, thanks for the encouragement. I understand that my calling the President out is not in the majority, but people with disabilities deserve so much better, especially from the leader of our country. Stop by anytime.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Mostert:
I have no party affiliation and you are broadly right. No politician is above being called for remarks, (even if misspoken or unintended) that have consequences. They tend to feed the sleeping monsters. As for Sarah Palin herself, my problem was with many of her speeches, which I attended and found to be very intolerant and hypocritical. The name calling of "races of people" showed a very nasty and hypocritical side. I have to distinguish between superficial rhetoric and reality. I could not support her for other reasons (her lack of formal education is irrelevant). I think she is very intelligent and used her Down's Syndrome child as a political football. Her actions in own state on policy matters dont match the rhetoric.