Monday, February 8, 2010

Rating the R-Word Offenses: A Bipartisan Look

I don't comment every time someone is criticized for saying "retard" or "retarded," but so many political and media folks have been dropping the R-word that I have to chime in. Particularly why Rush Limbaugh's and Glen Beck's comments are more offensive than the other people in question -- White House aide Rahm Emanuel and David Carney, a campaign consultant to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Here's a quick summary, with links if you want to read more. My ratings are not intended to excuse any use of this word, but I think there are varying degrees of insensitivity and offensiveness. What do you think? Are all uses of the R-word equally offensive?

In a strategy session with liberal groups and other White House, some attendees said they were going to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were opposing the president's health care plan. White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel responded by saying, "F--ing retarded." It was reported in the Wall Street Journal, and Emanuel called Special Olympics head Tim Shriver to apologize to the disabled community. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called for Emanuel's resignation. Emanuel signed a pledge to not say the word again, and the White House planned a meeting with disability advocates.
Offense scale = 6. Insensitive, in a small group, and not directed toward people with disabilities.

In Texas, David Carney was accused of using the word "retarded" during negotiations over logistics for a Jan. 14 debate. According to Terry Sullivan, campaign manager for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kay Bailey Hutchison, when Carney heard that one of the holding rooms would be in a different building, he said, "That's just retarded. That's the most retarded thing I've ever heard."
Offense scale = 5. Insensitive, in an even smaller group, and not directed toward people with disabilities, or any person in particular.

Here is a partial transcript from Limbaugh. I challenge any disability advocate, whatever your political leanings, to defend these remarks:

"Folks, there is so much apologizing going on from members of this administration, it’s just amazing. First place, there’s Rahm Emanuel out there who is in big trouble for calling liberals, for calling liberal activists F-ing retards. Sarah Palin demanded that he be fired. Instead, he is apologizing to liberal activists. He was getting mad at them about health care. The liberal activists kept blaming the White House for all this health care debacle not happening and not getting done. Emanuel’s getting ticked off out there saying, (paraphrasing) “What are you blaming us for? We didn’t do anything about it, you F-ing retards.” I think the big news is the crack-up going on. But our politically correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are “retards,” “retards.” I mean these people, these liberal activists are kooks. They are Looney Tunes. I’m not going to apologize for it. I’m just quoting Emanuel. It’s in the news. I think the big news is that he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters “F-ing retards.”

"So now there’s going to be a meeting, there’s going to be a “Retard” Summit at the White House....From the Wall Street Journal: “Emanuel Steps Up His Apology — Rahm Emanuel privately apologized last week to the Special Olympics after the Journal reported that he used the word ‘retarded’ in a derogatory manner. But advocates for people with disabilities didn’t think that apology, coming in a phone call to Special Olympics head Tim Shriver, was enough. Now, Emanuel is taking his contrition one step farther — hosting a delegation of advocates, including two people with mental disabilities, at the White House.” They’re going to have a “Retard” Summit just like they had the Beer Summit....You know, here’s the thing. If you want to look at how this is broken down, Emanuel compares Democrat activists to retarded people, then apologizes to retarded people. Not to the Democrats.

"Normally if you call somebody a retard, you apologize to them for calling them a retard. But he has apologized to the retarded people for daring to lump them with Democrats. It’s hilarious. So in an effort, ladies and gentlemen, to quell rising questions about the endless apologies necessary from Democrats, Obama is taking a short bus, little yellow bus full of “retards” — “F-ing retards” — to Las Vegas for the weekend."

Offense scale = 10. He calls people with disabilities "retards," "retarded," and even works in a "joke" about a "short bus." Not satire, not funny -- just cruel.

Palin told Chris Wallace yesterday: "They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh. [He] was using satire ... . I didn't hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with 'f-ing retards,' and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there."

Glenn Beck, the father of a child with special needs, was talking on his radio show last month to actress Mary Lynn Rajskub of "24." Talking by phone, Rajskub mentioned her love of painting, and when she said she enjoys painting "retarded children and paintings of the insane," you could clearly hear laughter on Beck's end of the line. Beck, trying to suppress laughs, asked how much the paintings of the "retarded" children go for. She then asked of there were "people laughing in the background," he said, "We're not laughing, we're just imagining that those would be nice. ... Honestly, I've been looking for one of those, but I haven't seen them."
Offense rating = 7. Upon hearing the word, Beck should have reminded Rajskub that that term can be offensive to many people. Did he really think that was funny to the point of laughing uncontrollably? How would he react if a guest or caller used a racial or ethnic slur?

I encourage you to visit to learn how to "Spread the word to end the word."

UPDATE: Stephen Colbert on Palin, Limbaugh, and Emanuel, from Patricia E. Bauer's Disability News.
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