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Obama’s Special Olympics Gaffe


So, the news and blogesphere is buzzing about Obama’s bad joke on the Tonight Show.  First, I do think the issue is getting blown way out of proportion.   Part of the reason might be because this is the first stupid thing I’ve heard Obama say since his presidential campaign kicked off.   But, did it have to hit so close to home?  I would think a member of a minority would be extra sensitive to the issues of other minorities.  I would also think that just the words “Special Olympics” would be used with caution by a politician.

Being a disability advocate for my children, I feel I should post something about this comment by the President.  It was obvious that the President was poking fun at himself, but unfortunately by comparing himself to the Special Olympics, he unintentionally made fun of the special olympiads as well.  A very unfortunate blunder, but hopefully this can be a learning experience for Obama as well as the general public.

When I first saw the above clip, I posted a tweet, which went to my facebook wall (below is the message).  This tweet easily broke my comment record and still counting.

“Cynthia Bissell is wondering what the disability community thinks of Obama’s Special Olympics comment. I’m thinking, Oh well, he’s not perfect after all…”

Here are some of the comments from FaceBook Friends:

“I think it’s pretty shitty. Not cool.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t mean spirited, just ignorant. Growing up I used to use the term “retarded” all the time, never really thinking about it until I realized what a lot of people with children with special needs felt. I was being very poopy and it never occurred to me. :(“

“He’s going to have to do something REAL special for them now that’s for sure!!”

“I agree. He’s not perfect. He was making a joke about himself. He did not intend to hurt anyone. I think the media tends to blow things out of proportion too often.”

“I understand he called the head of the special olympics immediately after the show- it was a stupid remark by a man we think is perfect, who is human after all! The difference for me is he takes responsability and puts himself in real situations where real people can see the best and the ongoing struggle to be the best.”

“We all say things sometimes without having enough time to think. That only makes human.”

“that’s too bad he used that analogy … highly inaccurate assumption about special olympians and bowling! there are MUCH larger fish to fry tho so I guess we’ll forgive him.

“I was pretty upset to see 1) Obama say that and 2) Jay Leno laugh and 3) the audience laugh. It’s really a good glimpse at how far we have to go. What was so funny? I’ve seen and been involved with SO and the athletes are NOT funny and NOT bad bowlers either. I hope something good comes of this, I was really surprised to see Obama do that, really disappointed.”

“I also hope that some good comes out of it. It was shocking to me, I know it may not seem like a big deal to some but all I can say is WHAT WAS HE THINKING?????? Jeez. And I like Obama!”

“My thoughts are, maybe this will help shed some much needed media light on Special Olympics, and really, economy is going to hell in a hand basket (not sure who’s) so media should move on!!”

“…you know my involvement with Special Olympics … I’m VERY sensitive to that kinda of language misuse when it comes to special needs. One can only hope that some good will come out of this.”

Addendum 3/21/09, best reply yet from Michelle:

“Obama’s comment just underscores how pervasive discrimination against mentally disabled people is in our society; most people will still consider the “r word” socially acceptable when it’s really just as bad as the “n word”. But inviting Special Olympians to the White House for a bowling lesson, while it may be good PR, won’t do a thing to fix the problem. I’d like to see them hire a mentally disabled person to work in the White House. Not only would Obama be setting a good example for businesses, he’d make a real, concrete change in someone’s life.”


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