Susan's Blog

Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama Hears A Who

Oh, oh, oh. Say it ain’t so, O. Did you really have to go and make a crack against my beloved Special Olympics? Was Joe Biden writing your stuff last night?

President Obama likened his allegedly-low bowling ability to the Special Olympics on the Jay Leno show Thursday night. He then apologized to Tim Shriver, the CEO of SO, who of course took it very graciously.

Well, I am not as gracious. I don’t have to be. My darling Nat can run circles around the Prez. Well, even if he can’t, in SO that is entirely beside the point. (I could write a whole book on what the point of SO is — and I just may do that next.) I may love Obama’s politics (and I do), but he has got to get a Special education!!!!! Sure, it was a joke, but I don’t think it was funny. I fear that President Obama represents a large section of the people in this country, perhaps the world, who just don’t get it when it comes to disability. Sometimes I don’t get it. But when I do, I see that there is a whole world in every one of us, and when we make stupid assumptions, we are hurting ourselves, we are denying ourselves access to an entire world. We are becoming part of the problem. We are like the Wickersham brothers, who would just boil that dustspeck rather than try and hear those Who’s.

His remark is the height of ignorance. There are a full range of playing abilities in the Special Olympics, and many divisions. I would not assume anything about the athletes in SO. You never know when someone will put all of that God-given autistic focus into his game, for example, and pull a J-Mac on you.


Well said Susan.

I remember McCain called Obama something like “that one” and though it was likely a slip, it hinted at an underlying lack of respect for his opposition. Likewise this horrible slip from Obama indicates that he, like many others, respects people with developmental and learning disabilities less than others. He must apologise explicitly, and not try to fob it off as a joke. It’s just not funny, not from a person in his position.

— added by Sharon on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 9:47 am

Well not for nothing someon in his position shouldn’t be on jay leno
while in office

and as for his politics – it depends which one – the public one or the private one


— added by An American on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 10:00 am

He did apologize, right?

I understand your ire though.

My kid can stay up later than him, and can probably pick a better NCAA bracket.

— added by Someone Said on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 10:31 am

He should have the Special Olympics bowling team come bowl at the White House.

— added by Fielding J. Hurst on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11:36 am

When we are children the horrible indoctrination begins…We learn that word “retarded” and it becomes part of our personal put-down arsenal. Later, when we are in our politically correct phrase, we might use a sly look and indicate someone is “special” and we sure do mean it in the cruelest way. Then you become an Autism Mom, and the world, and these little perjoritives take on a whole new meaning. Frankly, sometimes I STILL catch myself thinking that word. There’s a learning curve here. I think we need to cut the Prez some slack. He is genuinely sorry. Let’s let this be an opportunity for growth for all.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11:38 am

I winced a bit when I heard him say that. However, I do think he gets it. He has disability activists in his administration, has the most comprehensive disability goals and policies (all of which were formulated by disabled activists). He was quick to issue an apology. If you want to see him talking about disability, look at this video:

Hard to find fault with anything he said there. He is also the first president to ask for and receive double the special education funding. No one has even made it a priority before.

While I think what he said wasn’t very nice, I think it could have been caused by a bit of nervousness. Let’s give him credit for what he has already accomplished in regards to folks with disability in just 60 days while we are castigating him for a inappropriate remark.

— added by Kent on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11:47 am

Kent, Guy Rude,
I am with you. I will give him a break, but I want to see Fielding’s idea happen: he now should bowl with an SO athlete IN the White House. Or, how about a really cute teenage basketball player who only recently learned how to score?? Hmm, if only we could find one of those…

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm

“Or, how about a really cute teenage basketball player who only recently learned how to score??”

Excellent idea!

Guy rude? lost me, what does that mean?

— added by Kent on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Oh, sorry Kent! “Guy Rude” is what I call “The Guy You Thought Was Rude,” a friend of mine who makes comments frequently on my blog. He’s really not rude at all — at least, not recently!

I was addressing my comment to you and to him. –SLS

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:17 pm

Oh, duh. Sometimes I’m a bit slow processing this stuff.

To Guy, I like his pick for the NCAA Div 1 winner and the fact I’m a graduate of UNC-CH doesn’t have anything to do with it 🙂

— added by Kent on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:22 pm

I think we all say silly things that we later regret but someone in his position needs to think carefully before he says things. Still, he did apologize and I’m thankful for the fact that his administration are prioritizing autism.

— added by Chun Wong on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Obama’s comment made me angry. My 51 year old cousin is one of the top bowlers on his SO team. Two years ago I was lucky enough to attend his event in Worcester where I witnessed him get 5 strikes in one game. He followed that up with a celebratory performance to his favorite song MJ’s Thriller–move for move. He can do a lot of things because of the great folks at SO. Obama should invite my cousins team to bowl at the White House so he can learn how to bowl from the SO pros.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 1:28 pm

OK here’s the thing…Why does humiliating the disabled get a pass? “Oh, I don’t think the poor guy really meant to humiliate disabled people.” This shows an underlying contempt that I think Obama has for many people… he is just as elitist as the Hollywood crowd he wishes to woo. Bottom line: This morning, without warning, during the morning news shows, I had to explain to my son why the P-O-T-U-S just made fun of Special Olympics. My son participated in SO for the first time last spring and still shows off his medals proudly. I did not have an answer for him. Do you Kent? Do you Chun?

— added by Mekei on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 1:35 pm

I just posted about the same issue, Susan, which infuriated me when I heard about it this morning. It’s upsetting that he would let such a remark slip out. ((sigh)). Well done post.

— added by Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 2:33 pm

From CNN:

he Special Olympics organization is calling on President Obama to “consider” hiring one of their athletes to work in the White House, following the president’s reference to the organization during his Thursday night appearance on The Tonight Show.

“In so doing, he could help end misperceptions about the talents and abilities of people with intellectual disabilities, and demonstrate their dignity and value to the world,” Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, said in a statement released Friday morning.

Shriver also said the president was heartfelt in his apology, but added “words hurt and words matter.”

“Words can cause pain and result in stereotypes that are unfair and damaging to people with intellectual disabilities,” Shriver said in the statement. “And using “Special Olympics” in a negative or derogatory context can be a humiliating put-down to people with special needs.”

— added by Kent on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 2:52 pm


“This shows an underlying contempt that I think Obama has for many people… he is just as elitist as the Hollywood crowd he wishes to woo.”

“I did not have an answer for him. Do you Kent? “

I understand your anger, but I’m more interested in what the man does rather than what he says. In addition, being a person considered as having “special needs”, I don’t believe I have an obligation to justify my view of this to you. I hope you told your son that President Obama has done more for my community than any president in the last 20 years and sometimes people make mistakes and making a mistake is ok if we correct it which the President did even before Leno was aired last night. I would also tell him that he should be proud of who he is but ignorance happens in the world.

— added by Kent on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Thanks to Obama’s stimulus package the autism summer program is being expanded in my city — 30 more hours of programming this summer. Let’s remember what really matters here. Obama is including greater funding for special education in the stimulus. McCain would not have. Did you ever wonder if you might have said something insensitive if you had never had a disabled child? I know I might be guilty of thoughtlessness if I wasn’t the parent of a child with a disability. Let’s not be so quick to condemn.

— added by Toadysmom on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 9:00 pm

You are right, of course, Toady, but the thing is, so are we to express our disappointment. He is great, but he still can learn. This is an opportunity for the whole country to move forward…

And just because we fault him for this mistake it is okay!!! He is not infallible, and he has to learn, and that is OKAY!!! 🙂

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Hmm… does the Special Olympics have bowling? Because I bet the athletes are a heck of a lot better than the President… which is OK, because that’s what they train to do, and it doesn’t matter if the President gets a gutter ball. But people don’t seem to realize that Special Olympics athletes are really pretty darn good. It’s not just some patronizing, “Ooh, you’re so cute, let’s give you a ribbon” thing. It’s real competition. And the participants have outgrown the cute anyway.

— added by Anonymous on Friday, March 20, 2009 at 11:40 pm

He has hurt many families in America. He needs to say he is sorry in the public, not to an organization.

In addition, someone who claims to have experienced prejudice and stereotypes throughout life, and has written about them in great detail, should be more sensitive and refined from life’s lessons.

Furthermore, Obama claimed he was going to have the world think ‘highly’ of America again. Will this joke help?

For someone who spoke of equality as a creed. Does this joke match that philosophy?

For someone that said he would stand for all people. Does this stand up for those that participate in the special Olympics?

The fact is Obama claimed a higher standard. To much is given, much is required.

Obama has just showed us that ‘yes we can’ destroy what a campaign stands for with a single joke.

During the campaign for the White House in 2008, the media criticized Palin for being ‘common,’ ‘not-polished,’ ‘not-compassionate’ 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. Watch:

— added by Ju on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 1:57 am

You had me up until the “outgrown the cute” thing. Just like anywhere, there are SO participants who are cute and some who are not. But what I have found in life is that most people, once you get to know them are cute in one way or another.

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 6:21 am

You know, Palin may have *appeared* more compassionate in one place or another, but I believe there is a world of difference between what she ultimately would have DONE for the disabled. As I recall, she didn’t even know what “autism” actually was.

Hopefully Obama will learn from this and grow as a result and just continue to fund special education the way he already has!!!!!!!!!

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 6:35 am

I was more reacting to some of the harsh comments than to your post. I do agree that Obama’s comment was not a good thing. One positive thing to keep in mind is that the younger generation is going to be much more sensitive to the disabled among us than our generation was raised to be. They have been going to school and living in the community with all kinds of kids. This exposure bodes well for the future of our children as they become adults.

— added by toadysmom on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 7:23 am

I know, Toady’s Mom. Thank you. 🙂

— added by Susan Senator on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 7:57 am

My husband thought too big a deal was made of it. I think we have a right to expect our president not to say things like that…even on a local government level in the small town where I lived, if someone said something like that I know there would be an outcry…so for our president, of whom we are hanging on his every word…it was very disappointing and we have a right to expect more or better from him. Big bummer to me.

— added by eileen on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 9:18 am

Re: Palin. Interesting article from an Alaskan newspaper about her recently turning down federal money that would have gone to special ed:

I’m not happy with Obama’s comment or with everything he’s done. But actions speak louder than words.

Ohio Mom

P.S. sorry if my link doesn’t link.

— added by Anonymous on Saturday, March 21, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Susan, I just had to say that I loved this line you wrote :

“But what I have found in life is that most people, once you get to know them are cute in one way or another.”

You know, that is so true, most people, once you get to know them have something cute about them.

— added by Kent on Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 8:26 am

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