Obama On Leno: Slip of the Tongue



Obama’s Olympic Moment

Slip of the Tongue, Missed Opportunity

Obama on Leno: I was going to write about this right after it happened, but I ended up taking the family to Disneyland and getting busy with many other things. As all of you know by now President Obama was on Leno and it was a big deal. A sitting US President on a late night show, that’s huge for late night shows. I watched the interview and it was pretty much what I expected. A respectful interview with softball questions and a competent well rehearsed and relaxed Obama. (None of those things are criticisms by the way, this was Leno not a debate.)
During the interview Obama made one statement that got a lot of people understandably upset. He referred to his bowling skills as “like the Special Olympics or something.” He called the head of the Special Olympics to apologize and invited some Special Olympians to the White House. So, is that the end of it? Should have said what he said? Did he do enough?
Yes, it has basically been the end of it. Sure the slip up will be added to the laundry list of screw ups recited by talk radio hosts. Beyond that, all is forgiven. The mainstream media was already fawning over his apology before the story even hit the wires. Maria Shriver took him to task and so did Gov. Palin. Those complaints were largely ignored and it was business as usual. Again, nothing unexpected. There are bigger issues and we are still well within the “free pass” zone. If Bush had said this, the outcry would have been far worse, just as the DVD gift and Russian “Overcharged” button would have been considered unforgiveable sins. Ironically these gaffes would have used as evidence that Bush needs a “short bus” or something equally snide.

Should Obama have said what he said? Of course not. He knew that the second the words came out of his mouth. Is what he said horrible or unforgiveable? Of course not. What he said was so common that most of us don’t even think about it. “That’s retarded” or “What a retard” are common on every playground, nearly every home and every damn porn convention I have ever attended. That doesn’t make the words any less hateful or hurtful. He said what he said and apologized right away. I am sure that the President has heard worse words throw at himself and his children and I don’t believe there was any malice behind them. A fitting ‘punishment’ would be for him to bowl against some Special Olympians and let us all watch him get his ass kicked. I am not outraged by Obama’s words. (I have been angry with similar slurs when used by writers with time to measure their words and choose to use them anyway.) He made a common joke apologized for it. We need to take him at his word. If this is the worst thing he does during his time in the White House then we can all celebrate.

Finally, did he do enough? Hell no! I know I just said that we need to take him at his word and I mean that. We should not crucify him for what he said, but that doesn’t mean he did enough. What Obama said in jest was a common, but it is still wrong. I am not big on political correctness in general, but I do believe that words matter. There are words I just don’t use on my site or in my daily life because I find them to be hateful and distasteful. (And before anyone gets too worked up, I believe there is a huge difference between comedy, parody and daily conversation.) Words that express nothing but hate should be examined. As I said, “retard” is such a common word in American conversation that we (and I include myself) rarely even think about it. Obama doesn’t strike me as a particularly hateful man so I doubt his words were meant to do anything but make us laugh. Other words were once just as common and accepted in our conversation and we have grown to realize that they have no place in our dialogs. This was an opportunity for Obama to do something remarkable. He could and perhaps should have done more than apologize. He could have addressed his words head on. He could have told us why he used them, that they are part of our daily language and that it is time we change that. Forty year ago racial slurs that would be considered unacceptable today were commonplace. It took time Had Obama addressed his comments and the need to make “retard” and Special Olympics jokes less a part of our acceptable speech he would have gone a long way towards turning an ugly slip of the tongue into something positive. That would have been an extraordinary example of leadership and the President would have earned my respect for his courage.
Words matter. This was not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean that Obama is hateful. It should and has been forgiven already. On the other hand, he missed out on a chance to say “I was wrong. I used words that are hateful and it is time we put them on the shelf.” That would have been an extraordinary thing.

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