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Palin and Emanuel: A slur? Really?

Did White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel commit "a slur on all God's children with cognitive and developmental disabilities" by calling  the tactics adopted by some dissident liberal Democrats "[expletive] retarded"?

Sarah Palin thinks so (and blogs so), and also thinks Emanuel should be cashiered by President Obama for uttering a word comparable in outrageousness to the N-word. Emanuel has apologized.

Politically speaking, Emanuel should have done so, even if he wasn't referring to retarded people, let alone retarded children, and even though he was spouting off in a closed-door meeting. But is "retarded" a hateful word? "Retard," yes, whether that schoolyard taunt is inflicted on a literally retarded child or a child with normal intelligence. But "retarded," which began life as a polite euphemism for "slow-witted" or "feebleminded," isn't usually thought of as a hateful epithet. 

Or is it? I asked my journalism students at George Washington University whether the R word was offensive, and a few said yes -- but mostly because it was used to disparage people who were not retarded. (The analogy is calling something or someone you're mocking "gay" -- as in "school is so gay.") But is the word itself offensive?

Sociolinguists would say there is no "word itself"; society determines what words mean, and whether they are insulting. Fair enough, but in that case "intellectually challenged" or "developmentally disabled" also will become hateful terms.  As I have observed before, euphemisms have a short shelf life. Next year Emanuel may be apologizing for calling superliberals "special."

-- Michael McGough


Comments () | Archives (59)

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Perhaps if "writer" Michael McGough had a disabled child his opinion would not be so pithy. I am never going to read anything you write again.


Under your logic, the word "Negro" should be perfectly acceptable. I don't know what all the fuss was about.


All politics is retarded.


I wonder how much time, how many articles, how many comments are used up arguing about HOW someone said something: Vegas, retarded, whatever.

And would that more time were spent arguing about WHY.


That this story is news is retarded. Should we ask Mr. OBiden?


I suggest you read Liane Kupferberg Carter's article on the Huffington Post yesterday. She captures how most with cognitive disabilities and their families feel about the use of the word. What should I tell my 10 year old child with special needs when she hears someone use the word to slur someone "typical" - that since it wasn't aimed at her, she shouldn't be hurt? When it's used as an offense, it devalues her - and she realizes it. And when people like you take up for its use, how can anyone blame a kid on the playground from thinking it's ok, too? And, by the way, the fact that another term MAY come along and be used as a slur, too, doesn't mean it's acceptable to continue using the word that is a slur now. Maybe it'll be like the "n" word; it was offensive and became unacceptable and no word came along to replace it.

Ted J. Welch

I cannot say that I agree much with Rahm Emanuel, but his use of the word "retard" is perfectly acceptable. The last thing we need to continue to build on is the "word police force", those judging on what can and cannot be said. We are running around trying the engineer the lexicon to meet the over-sensitives of the few. The word "retard" has its place a descriptive noun and only offends people that look for ways to be affronted. Sahara Palin's being offended has little value to me personally. She has the right to see it her way, but not call for action against anyone. She is as much a demigod as Rahm Emanuel, but in this case, his comment is just that....his. FREEDOM...we are losing it to.

Marty Francom

Man, you are such an excuse maker for anyone/thing Obama. Sad.


Another incident of a political adversary pouncing on one word and false accusations made. Please know that Palin is a commentator for a far-right television network that has only one concern: ratings. Controversy = entertainment.


God, people are so LAME.

Oh, wait.

andrew nelson

Okay Mike, you win. I will agree to agree with Rohm. Democrats are Retards.


I am very willing to have my consciousness raised about the word retarded, and I don't even mind Sarah Palin doing it. Sensitive speech is an ongoing lesson that we all continue to learn.

But I don't think for a minute that Palin is sincere, and I think Rahm's apology is more than adequate. Her call for his resignation is just more Palin posturing, which is her job now at Fox News, and was her style as VP candidate.

This reminds me of the feigned dismay of by Dick and Lynn Cheney when John Kerry referred to their gay daughter in a wholly sympathetic fashion, and which they claimed to be offended by for purely political purposes.


As a schoolteacher, there were words that were not acceptable in my classroom ...any slurs involving ethnicity, sexual orientation, country of origin, or disability.

I don't think it's too much to ask that Emanuel have just as much decency and respect for minorities as a child in third grade.


Sarah Palin is reported to call Trig "retarded" herself. She cannot draw a single breath without being a dishonest, cynical hypocrite.


Obama and all his people should be fired but Palin is making something out of nothing.
This was not an attack on all of God's children


To Laurie and Tony: Yes special needs children can be offended, along with their families, with the word 'retard'. I know, my brother is disabled (retarded).

There are two issues here that have more importance than 'teaching the world to hold hands in harmony': 1) Unfettered free speech, especially in politics, is of paramont importance and 2) the nutcase right doesn't get to frame every thought in the general public to match their agenda. Telling the sitting president to get rid of his closest advisors because he said an offensive word? How about putting the ex-VP in jail for outing an agent of the CIA and compromising national security? How about for taking money from big companies and then giving them no bid contracts? Whose ox is getting gored?

Billy Ray

If I called you a N-----R and you are actually WHITE, it would be a racial slur (and considered hatefull).

No different with referring to somewhat as being F------G R-------D. Except Rahm does it with more enthusiasm and he is unfit for duty in a leadership position. Fine for a Chicago mobster though. That is where he should be.

What a biased moron you are.

Harold A. Maio

Yes, Emanuel was insulting, for which he offered apology. Words slip out of mouths of their own volition sometimes, so imprinted are they. This is an example.

Indeed societies decide what is and is not insult, and those decisions change. That students in a journalism class may not know a term is insulting is not unusual, their teachers may not as well.

People with disabiliities are establishing respectful vocabularies, as other groups established them as they achieved the power to do so.

Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor


Ted J. Welch

I am sure in a few years from now "cognitive disabilities" will be equal offensive to some as well. Teasing by children, while cruel, is a part of growing up and dealing with life's challenges. Take away these challenges during the formative years and you get a society that can't deal with daily problems. Sure, there are words that hurt people, I have experienced it myself, as many others have. Its just something that people deal with, it does not make it true. I do believe there is a distinction between vulgarity and offensive. In the end, good manners is really whats important. Palin should have complained about his poor manners. Bad manners is something most people can agree upon.


It seems that no matter what people say, someone is 'offended' by it. I am not sure why people even listen to Sarah Palin anymore, we have had ample proof of her stupidity. (Ooops did I offend stupid people there?)
Let's just try and not be offended so easily and please by all means could we start to think about others before we use any degrading words in our speech? I doubt that many young children were actually watching a political speech either

Henry Lowy

While Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska, she cut the annual state Special Olympic's budget from $500,000 to $250,000.....that is retarded. My family agrees, even my youngest daughter with Downs Syndrome.


They only people who could be offended by this word are retarded people. But of course, since they are retarded they would fail to be offended. Thus, the word is not offensive.
Sarah giving english language advice. Really?
Whomever is offended is just stupid. Oh wait.....


Whatever Sarah says has to be reported as if she is the arbiter of all things. Just like wherever she goes, whether hawking books or tv shows, every step she takes is reported. Her facebook tweets are reported as if gospel. Can't think of another cult figure that has the press salivating over every word, every breath she takes. Soundbite Barbie is PRECIOUS, but come on......... now we have her daughter seeking a national presence whether thru her abstinance campaign (little late) or her new business venture:public relations. It's as if Sarah has the press by the shorthairs and they must report every utterance. Is there no other salacious controversy going on? We all know Sarah has mastered the snarky soundbite.......after all, that's what puts her face in the press. And, the press is soooooooooooooooo accomodating. I'm sure they would do the same for a LIBERAL. Not!


One other comment: even Dick Cheney doesn't run around every week it seems, saying who should be fired here or there. Who does she think she is? Cause she can talk folksy? If you believe life is a popularity contest, and not a meritocracy, then Sarah is queen of the ball. On the other hand, if you'd rather have analysis than lightweight snarky barbs good luck on that with Ms. Palin. At some point if the mainstream media continues to drool over her, they might actually give her an air of legitimacy. Think that over.


Nice that you all give Emanuel a free pass by making this all about Palin. This is not about Palin, it is about the vulgar dirtbag heading the president's staff.


Sarah Palin is a boob. (Hmm, should I have said that?)


What we are missing in all this is the fact that Rahm was telling the truth. Liberals are retarded.


Once again, much ado, a.k.a. waste of bandwidth on all sides: participants, writers, commenters.

Nothing here to see. Move along.

Mike Oxlong

Retard is in very common usage among teens and younger to refer to anything stupid. It is as common as their use of gay to mean what queer once properly meant.


I welcome you all to look at this young man's speech that he made for a high school.

This shows that Racism comes in all shapes and sizes. And yes, if you say the word Retard it is A HORRENDOUS THIS TO SAY. AND SHAME ON YOU.

I AM ON SARAH'S SIDE...and don't even respond until you see this you tube clip.


Tom Cotrel

One point: If a Republican had said it, the same people going easy on Emmanuel (CBS, MSNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, LA Times, NY Times, Washington Post, HuffPo, etc.) would be all over it. That person would be history. Just as if he were to have said, oh, "light skinned n--ro."

Denver Dave

The PC police are coming!
The PC police are coming!
The PC police are coming!
The PC police are coming!
The PC police are coming!


Imagine if a Bush advisor had criticized a propsal as, "That's []ing gay." How many of you would defend the Bush advisor in the same way you are defending Emanuel's right to use "retarded" as an insult? Likely none.

Is that because gay people are more politically powerful than mentally disabled people? More fun at parties?


"Next year Emanuel may be apologizing for calling superliberals 'special.'"
Brilliant. Or maybe next year Emanuel may be apologizing for calling greedy bankers "Jews". Nothing wrong with the word Jew, right?

I understand that people often use "retarded" in a generic sense (to mean slow witted). The problem is, to many (most?) it means "mentally disabled." It refers to a group of people, and its offenseive to use as an insult.

We should choose a dim-witted animal instead. I hear Shih Tzus are one of the least intelligent breads of dogs. "You're such a Shih Tzu" has a nice ring. Let's try that until PETA gets after us.


May I suggest "Palinesque".


Sarah Palin's existence as a celebrity and someone that gets quoted by the media is offensive


It's an affront to retarded people to be compared to Liberals after all they can't help it a Liberal is too stupid and hateful to be retarded. I'm waiting for little Obama to blame it on Bush.

Matt Phillips

Wait a minute. I thought we're not supposed to call 'retarded' people 'retarded' anymore; we're supposed to say "special" or "challenged." Therefore, 'retarded' doesn't refer to developmentally disabled people anymore and Mr. Emanuel's comment has nothing to do with that group.
But seriously folks...
The interpretation of words comes down to the individual. I can see how Mrs. Palin might be a bit touchy about the word given her daughter has Down's Syndrome, but nothing about Mr. Emanuel's comment suggests that he was referring to, or disparaging, developmentally disabled individuals. Was there anything "wrong" with the way he used the word. No. Should he apologize, given the words historical connotations. Yup. Do I use words like 'retarded' and 'gay' in ways that would be considered inappropriate if I were in public office. You bet!


'Next year Emanuel may be apologizing for calling superliberals "special."'
This is the very slippery slope set up by Political Correctness. I'll be happy to agree with you AFTER the current cabal of PC dandies is completely run out of DC.

Republicans are Hypocrites

If a republican would have made comments like that nothing would be said about it and if someone did say something about FOX NEWS 'the republican opinion channel would chastise them.


I thought Republicans were against being PC. I wish those self-serving hypocrites would make up their minds.

Politically Correct

Main Entry: re·tard·ed
Pronunciation: \ri-ˈtär-dəd\
Function: adjective
Date: 1895
sometimes offensive : slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development or academic progress


Republicans are Hypocrites

You can tell all the raciest! They are the ones who compare this to someone saying the n word. Taking jabs at the black president.

Republicans are Hypocrites

Retarded is a medical terminology, which is used in the medical field. However the n word is a derogatory slang, which is used to acknowledge that blacks were not real people. Know what you are talking about raciest. That goes to everyone who is comparing the n word to the word retarded


To Ret SGT,

The issue is the use of the word. It is offensive to most people with disabilities and their loved ones and it doesn't matter whether a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent or a Libertarian says it. How can those of us who are fighting for a quality education or better jobs for our children with disabilities supposed to feel when the people that are pledging to help us can't even use speech that doesn't blatantly offend? Nobody is saying there shouldn't be free speech. You can use any word you want - the "n" word, the "r" word or whatever. But, I have a right to be upset that anyone would choose those words, especially those in positions of authority. And, by the way, I'm a Democrat.


If 'retarded' is offensive, wouldn't derivitives like 'libtard' and 'republitard' and 'demitard' be considered offensive too? If normal words are offensive when applied to people only to liken them to another group of people, wouldn't the same standard apply to the right wing's use of the words 'socialist', 'communist', and 'comrade' ? If it's the fact that words are used as name calling, wouldn't it be offensive to call someone 'Hitler'? How about the term 'lamestream media'? Is that offensive? We don't need to ban the words, just the way people use them to be deliberately offensive.

Sarah Palin could set a much better example by not being offensive herself. Until then, she has no moral high ground to stand on.


I hope Sarah Palin is including Ann Coulter on her list of who is Naughty and Nice:

Joy Behar interviews Ann Coulter on Larry King Live Feb 2009:

She (Coulter) had also referred to Scott McLelland as “retarded” in her book and feels that folks should not find the word an issue, because she believes McLelland was terrible for the job. Besides, Coulter declares, the word “retarded” shouldn't be thought of as offensive, again referring to people feeling victimized when they shouldn’t.

A New York Observer interview with Coulter by George Gurley
"I think, on the basis of the recent Supreme Court ruling that we can't execute the retarded, American journalists commit mass murder without facing the ultimate penalty," Ms. Coulter told me. "I think they are retarded. I'm trying to communicate to the American people and I have to work through a retarded person!"


Palin recomends resignation for just about everything. She does it all the time herself. Nothing like quitting to solve problems.


Anyone who compares N Word to Retarded is "special."

The social context and word origin are COMPLETELY different. It is even more "special" when someone compares the word "Negro" to the other N Word.

This is especially funny when the accusation comes from Palin.


The real problem here is a generation of people who think no one should ever say a disparaging word no matter what someone's behavior might be. Can you call someone an idiot? Apparently not. That would disparage all the idiots in the world. But would they know it?
There are far more serious matters underway at the moment, particularly among the Beltway bandits who are looting this nation's people. Politically correct is a social construct induced by social engineering first at school and then by peer pressure in adult venues.
When I was a kid and someone called you a name, the answer was a little saying which ended "...and words can never hurt me." Man up, people.

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