Saturday, February 06, 2010

Sarah Palin, Language Victim

Sarah Palin has been victimized be language again.

The perpetrator is Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in a private weekly strategy meeting "featuring liberal groups and White House aides," some expressed their intention "to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul."

Emanuel's response: "Fucking retarded." (It's unclear from the reporting whether he was speaking about the ideas or the people who had the ideas.)

Mrs. Palin has gone to Facebook to show her outrage that a public figure would use such a derogatory term, saying that retarded is a "slur on all God's children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them...," comparing it to a more well-known and more universally hated derogatory epithet: the dreaded "N-word."

What does Mrs. Palin want? "I would ask the president to show decency in this [internal discussion] process by eliminating one member of that inner circle, Mr. Rahm Emanuel, and not allow Rahm's continued indecent tactics to cloud efforts." Leaving the Chief of Staff out of discussions by the White House staff? Is Mrs. Palin expected Rahm to be fired?

Once again, Mrs. Palin overreacts to a situation she doesn't like, which leads me to the following gripes:

Gripe One: Who Called Whom What?

In her Facebook reaction to Rahm Emanuel's horrible misdeed, Mrs. Palin once again put her son Trig — who suffers from Down's Syndrome — on public display. She argues that Trig, and the thousands of people with cognitive and developmental disabilities, were denigrated by Mr. Emanuel's scornful soubriquet.

Rahm was speaking to and about some of the people in the meeting. Mrs. Palin, Rahm Emanuel did not call Trig retarded; you did. Why are you so vehement on turning your son into a victim?

Gripe Two: Sarah Palin Plays the Race Card?

Mrs. Palin compare's Mr. Emanuel's use of retarded to "the N-word." This is an unfair comparison. Retarded has a long history of legitimate use outside of the medical (and name-calling) field, and it is still used as such. Numerous situations exist in which I — or Rahm Emanuel — could use the word retarded and no one would bat an eye. Hell, the word retard is part of the California Health and Safety Code (Section 9636)!

On the other hand, situations in which the word nigger is acceptable are few and far between (such as in a discussion of derogatory terms). Nigger has no history outside of racial disparagement.

Yes, in recent decades the word has been claimed and owned by some African Americans and defused so that it is acceptable within their groups — in the same way that the homosexual community has claimed ownership of fag and dyke. But that's the opposite of what Mrs. Palin is apparently doing with retarded. Instead of defusing a term that can and has been used derogatorily, she has suffused it with more power.

I grew up with a cousin who was born with mental retardation. At the time, we used the phrase mentally retarded to describe his disability. In our family, he was retarded, and there was nothing derogatory about it. That was way back during the 1980s. If calling my cousin retarded was acceptable in the Christian family I grew up in, then comparing retarded to nigger is totally too far. At worst, retarded is comparable to person of color. Or Afro-American. Or homeboy.

And anyway, who dealt Mrs. Palin a race card?

Gripe Three: A Tribute to Eric Clapton

The knee-jerk reaction of right-wingers to any faux pas, simple error, or moment of temporary stupidity from a Democrat is to call for a resignation or termination.

As Eric Clapton sang, "Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself." Right-wingers' lack of "outrage" to the (sometimes extreme) shortcomings of fellow right-wingers is a clear sign that it isn't about Right or fairness or "protecting the children"; it's all about politics. Consider:

  • Pat Robertson claimed that the entire population of Haiti suffered from a horrible cataclysm because they made a deal with the devil. Yet the outrage that Mrs. Palin most assuredly felt at such unconscionable claims apparently didn't merit the public response that Rahm's gaff did.
  • When South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer compared people on government assistance programs — including children on reduced-price lunches and the hundreds of thousands of people who suddenly found themselves on unemployment comp in the last few years — to stray animals, Mrs. Palin did not feel compelled to call for him to withdraw from the race for South Carolina's governorship. Why not?
  • But the greatest example of hypocrisy — and the most ironic considering Mrs. Palin's attempt to play the race card — is that the GOP and southern conservatives (and yes, I recognize that Alaska isn't part of the South) are the ones who kept segregationist Strom Thurmond in Congress until he died of old age! Calling an African American a "nigger" is one thing; trying to keep African Americans out of the good schools, restaurants, theaters, etc. is something entirely different.

Gripe Four: What a Rush

I feel dirty that I fall on the same side of this controversy as Rush Limbaugh. Filthy. Ick!

Gripe Five: V for Victim

Sarah Palin didn't get a fair shake because of sexism. She was treated unfairly because she had an accent. She was unfairly mocked because her teenage daughter got pregnant out of wedlock. She was made fun of because someone overspent on her wardrobe.

At every turn, Sarah Palin is a victim of some new liberal attack. You might say she's made a career out of being a victim. And now she is steering her children toward a lifetime of being victims. Her younger daughter was a victim of David Letterman's unacceptable and unfunny "jokes." And now her poor son Trig is a victim of the potty-mouthed Chief of Staff of ultra-liberal, un-American President Obama.

It's time someone in that family reconsidered what it means to be strong and stopped being the victim.

Gripe Six: Members Only?

Who told? The real douchebag in all this isn't Sarah Palin or Rahm Emanuel, but the person who attended that private meeting and took it to the press. If the President needs to eliminate someone from these closed-door strategy meetings, is the one who opens those doors to let the press in.

How She Should Have Reacted

The reaction I would have loved to hear, which would have finally put a point on Mrs. Palin's "Sarah vs. The Liberals" scoreboard, would go something like this: "Rahm Emanuel's the one who's fucking retarded. My son Trig has enough of a sense of decency not to talk to people like that." But that would have been out of character, unfortunately. Too much for me to ask for.

So besides that, Mrs. Palin's response should have been to demand an apology from Mr. Emanuel.

But wait. He did apologize. Twice. First, in a private phone call to Tim Shriver, head of the Special Olympics. And then again to a group of disabilities advocates. (To be fair, the apologies probably started after Mrs. Palin's Facebook reaction.) I would hope that this would be enough, but the story is still growing like a foot fungus.

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