Stepping into politics: Obama comments on Special Olympics

I very rarely step into politics in blog format because of the inherent landmines that one encounters. People hold tremendously polarized worldviews that make coherent debate difficult - but sometimes an issue stands out in a way that makes NOT commenting wrong.

President Obama went on Jay Leno's show last night. I am not a huge fan of television so I rarely watch these shows. Still, I knew that I wanted to see 'what he said' when I checked the news this morning.

Apparently, in reference to his own poor bowling skills he made what is now being spun as a 'self deprecating comment.' Obama's comment about his bowling skills was "It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something."

In presumably light hearted banter he also allowed himself to be drawn into comments about "water-heads." This is an unbelievable lack of dignity from a President.

The political spinmeisters who think that deflecting the comment as a statement about Obama's lack of bowling skill are missing the point. The problem with this kind of statement is that by labeling something as 'self deprecating' the comment is still reflecting a comparison and a negative perspective on people who have disabilities. Obama is still holding a very negative perspective on the abilities of these people.

Standards for appropriate speech are raised for people who are in political office. If someone makes an obnoxious comment in their daily lives they can be corrected and educated. When a politician makes a comment they need to be more aware of what they are saying because the audience is larger and the impact is greater.

I am not going to engage in a prolonged conversation about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but the fact is that people generally speak from their own culture and world-view. It is sad if this is a reflection of his actual world view.

I would go so far to say that you can only make that comment if you really don't even know what Special Olympics is about. He needs to spend some time educating himself. The purpose of Special Olympics is to recognize that all people have a right to succeed if they are given the opportunity.

I am not looking to be outraged and in general it is difficult to offend me - but this statement by my President was just plain ignorant.

There is an awful lot of hub-bub flashing across the President's teleprompter about creating opportunities for all Americans these days. It is sad to see what comes out of the wizard's mouth the moment the curtain is pulled back and he is unscripted.


Buckeyebrit said…
Great post Chris. Matthew Molineux wrote a great piece in BJOT the other month about the inherent inequality of the "para" Olympics and called on UK OTs ton consider this as London prepares to host. Does have having a separate event devalue the contribution of athletes with disabilities?
Ju said…
He has hurt many families in America. He needs to say he is sorry in the public, not to some organization.

During the campaign for the White House in 2008, the media criticized Palin for being ‘common,’ and ‘not presidential.’ However, compare Sarah Palins attitude in this video created three weeks ago for the Special Olympics in Boise, Idaho.

You decide the more ‘presidential’ among them:
Anonymous said…
The stimulus package proposed by President Obama will provide for increased healthcare opportunities for those with disabilities. He cares about their well being. Palin has rejected part of the stimulus for her state, even though it would have given those eligible increased access to services for the disabled. She's only interested in playing politics.
As most know I don't generally post anonymous comments but no one wanted to put their name on any of the pro-Obama comments so I figured I would post at least one of them (there were several that I received).

As expected, professional pols only see these issues as an opportunity to make political hay. I could have predicted that someone was going to bring up the Palin video - which is at least topic-focused and a legitimate counterpoint to Obama's statement. It was equally predictable that someone would bring up that Palin wanted to opt out of some of the stimulus package. The larger story is that a lot of governors (both Dem and Repub) wanted to opt out of sections of the stimulus package. Again - take something that is not ideological (but actually a financial and budget issue) and make it political...

All of which distracts from the real issue, which is that it was a rude comment and something that is beneath the President. All it took was a couple posts to slide the focus off of the comment.

So this will be the last post - and it will refocus anyone's attention on the fact that it is not acceptable to make disparaging comments about other people.

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