Thursday, February 4, 2010
Carl Franzen Contributor
(Feb. 3) – White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has long been known for his foul mouth and ferocious temper. But one particularly inelegant remark he made last fall resurfaced with a vengeance recently and may yet turn out to be the most contentious of his career.
Emanuel is reported to have told several liberal groups their idea was "f---ing retarded," during a political strategy meeting in August.
The groups wanted to air attack ads against Democratic lawmakers who were unsupportive of President Obama's health care reform initiative, which was already facing tough opposition from town hall protesters and Republicans.
The Wall Street Journal's Peter Wallsten broke the news of this incident last week in a story about Emanuel's escalating conflicts with the progressive factions that make up Obama's base. Now the story has taken on a life of its own, provoking a controversy across the political spectrum about the use of the "R-word."
AFP / Getty Images
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel met with disability advocates Wednesday to apologize for a remark he made last year, when he told several liberal groups their idea was "f---ing retarded."
Newly minted Fox News contributor Sarah Palin quickly responded via Facebook on Monday, calling upon the president to dismiss Emanuel as chief of staff for his "slur on all God's children with cognitive and development disabilities – and the people who love them." Palin's son Trig was born with Down syndrome.
On Tuesday, a White House official claimed in an e-mail to Politico that Emanuel apologized for his remark by telephone to Tim Shriver, chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics.
Shriver was perhaps chosen to receive the apology because of his organization's work with people with disabilities. Besides hosting the pre-eminent international competition for athletes with disabilities, the Special Olympics last year launched a public-awareness campaign to discourage use of the word "retarded," which the organization calls the "R-word," citing its frequent pejorative connotation and discriminatory context.
As others have pointed out, this is actually the second time in less than a year the White House has run afoul of the Special Olympics. Back in March 2009, it was the President evaluating his poor bowling score (129) on the Jay Leno Show, saying it was "like the Special Olympics," a remark for which he also apologized.
One big problem with Emanuel's mea culpa quickly arose, though: It wasn't accepted, at least not at first. According to a spokeswoman for the Special Olympics, the White House's initial statement that it was accepted was "inaccurate."
"Tim didn't accept his apology," the spokeswoman revealed to Politico today. "Tim can't do that. He can't accept an apology on behalf of all people with disabilities."
So Emanuel met with disabilities advocates later this afternoon, during which time he "sincerely apologized for his mistake and the pain it caused," and pledged to join the "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign. He also committed to using his capacity within the administration to examine "pending legislation in Congress to remove the R-word from federal law."
That has scarcely halted the heated debate within the punditry, however, many of whom have now turned to attacking one another for their respective positions on the use of the "R-word."
For example, The Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan contested Palin's call for Emanuel's removal with a blog entry that has been deemed by one blogger to be "the ugliest post ever to appear on a highly trafficked, allegedly serious political blog." While Sullivan claims not to like the term "retarded," he defends Emanuel's apology and accuses Palin of using the term frequently to poke fun at her own disabled son. Going further, he theorizes that she named Trig after the medical classification for Down syndrome, trisomy G.
Rush Limbaugh, on the other hand, maintaining his longstanding aversion to political correctness, took the opportunity to redirect Emanuel's controversial quote into an indictment of the media and the left.
"I think the big news is the crack-up going on," Limbaugh said on his radio show. "Our political 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 loony tunes. I'm not going to apologize for it, I'm just quoting Emanuel, it's in the news."
Meanwhile, liberal commentators like Jane Hamsher at the blog FireDogLake are still waiting for Emanuel to apologize to the progressive groups he was addressing last August, in the tense meeting that started it all.
Apologies notwithstanding, Emanuel's offensive language appears scarcely forgiven, let alone forgotten. How long the matter embroils him and what effect it will have on the upcoming political climate, already gearing up for the 2010 midterm elections, remains to be seen.
Filed under: Nation, Politics