That Special Olympics Faux Pax

I’m getting lots of email from family caregivers who are angry with President Obama over his Special Olympics comment on Leno. The Arc, (yes that) Susan Axelrod, and countless others noted the unfortunate nature of the President’s careless remark. He rightly apologized before the show even aired, and the media spotlight will move on. Yet the disability community is a nontrivial constituency that takes this seriously and includes millions of poltiically-moderate, on-the-fence voters. Some ritual self-abasement seems in order….

The Chicago Tribune recently profiled several Special Olympic bowlers, which suggests an obvious solution. Kolan McConiughey is a Special Olympian. He averages 229 and has bowled five perfect games. The President should invite McConiughey over to the White House, get some nice network video of the guy rubbling the President’s bowling score into the dirt, and then have McConiughey carefully explain that the President needs to practice and to bring some game…

Last week, the Arc of the United States put things in the right perspective. Chiding the President for his faux pas, Arc went on to note the more important point: “The President has also articulated a comprehensive policy agenda that is of critical importance to people with disabilities.” On issue after issue from education policy, healthcare reform, the Community Choice Act, to stem cell research, the President has put his political capital behind valuable policies.

From parts west, Sarah Palin blasted the President. Tactically speaking, I suppose it would have been political malpractice for her to have done otherwise. Substantively speaking, she should be quiet until she has a serious and helpful policy agenda in this area. During the campaign, Governor Palin gave a much-ballyhooed policy speech in which the following words don’t appear: health insurance coverage, Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP, disability, SSI, Social Security. More recently, out of fairly transparent political calculation, she has turned down $170 million in stimulus funds for education services, many of value to disabled students. That’s a lot worse than one careless off-the-cuff remark.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.