Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A few notes on Barack's big blunder.

I think what bothers people most about Obama's "Special Olympics" gaffe is that it sounded like the chief executive got caught in one of those "how we really feel" moments. Know what I mean? In dealing with certain sensitive and/or politically correct aspects of life, most of us feel obliged to project all these noble, egalitarian sentiments, then every once in a while in an unguarded moment our true feelings act like poor Tara Reid's botched boobs: They slip out.* Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that most of us are callous hypocrites who are totally faking it when we voice all these wonderful, uplifting notions. I'm saying that we're not quite as convinced and single-minded about many of these things as one would infer from our public rhetoric. Certainly we're not as serious about them as we pretend to be. We act like these topics are oh-so-solemn, that humor is simply off-limits, inappropriate. In fact, in the privacy of our homes (or at least our minds), we may allow ourselves a very politically incorrect chuckle over this or that, now and then.

The Special Olympics is an especially special case, because in so many respects it's the apotheosis of today's all-pervading emphasis on believe-it-achieve-it, PMA-is-everything, never-give-up-your-dreams, etc. In short, it embodies all of the inspirational, check-your-brains-at-the-door rallying cries that have hijacked American thought and culture. So we go around talking about the transcendent significance of the event and how it highlights the indomitable nature of the human spirit. We look the other way and pretend we didn't see anything amusing when people who are obviously ill-equipped to perform various athletic moves try to execute them anyway, fail miserably and look silly doing it. Then one night Jay Leno asks us how well we bowl and we tell him we rolled a 129 at the White House last time, and in an ill-advised follow-up we blurt, "That was like the Special Olympics or something." Before we've even closed our mouth we realize that we've put our foot in it, but it's too late.

We've committed the unthinkable, and Sarah Palin is outraged.

For the record, her official response read thusly: "This was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world.... By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them."

Look, folks, the Special Olympics is a very nice event. It makes handicapped people feel better about themselves, and that's great. Why can't that be enough? W
hy do we feel compelled to oversell and over-romanticize such a situation? These are our "most precious and unique people"? Really? No, they're not. They're genetic mishaps, instances where nature or biology went awry.
They may be just as worthy of love and caring as anyone else on the planet...but they can "outperform many of us"? Really? Without the wheelchair or the mechanical assist?

If all that sounds mean-spirited, put the sentiment aside for a moment and look at the simple reality. I don't think too many people would choose, beforehand, to have a special-needs child. It's one thing to choose to adopt a special-needs child, and there's indeed a special place in heaven for those who do. But would anyone choose to purposely create a special-needs child? I doubt it.

There is nothing wrong with recognizing or even pointing out that these "special athletes," for all their training and commitment, are incapable of competing on a level playing field with the real Olympians, the men and women who set the standards in their respective events. You are not in fact a competitive athlete, in the purist's sense, if you must be outfitted with wheelchairs, ramps, assorted high-tech prostheses and other paraphernalia in order to enable you to play. You are not a true athlete if someone else must physically help you to the starting line, or if the dimensions of the field must be shrunk or otherwise adjusted in order to accommodate your level of skill. I'm sorry, folks. That's just how it is. Let me tell you, I only wish I'd been born with an arm capable of propelling a baseball at 95 mph! And other people wish they'd been born with an arm, period.* I suspect that at some level, the new occupant of the Oval Office wishes he'd worked a little bit more on his spin moves when he was a young basketball enthusiast. I suspect that he wishes this all the more each time he gets a new briefing on the economy, or maybe right after he does Leno's show...

When it comes to sports, we all have our wishes and dreams. But in the end, superstardom is reserved for the superstars.


P.S. TUESDAY, 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, speaking of Barack, or Mrs. Barack... What set this woman, Tammy Bruce, off? I don't get this. Why is she so upset with Michelle Obama? I don't see the link between anything Mrs. O said and Bruce's conclusion that we now have "trash" in the White House. I'd be deeply grateful if someone could explain this to me.

* And also like Ms. Reid's boobs, they tend to slip out at the worst possible time.
** And no
to be clearI'm not saying the handicap of being unable to throw a baseball at 95 mph is in any way equivalent to not having an arm to begin with! OK? I'm simply saying that in the specific context of athletics, there is an infinite continuum of skill levels, starting with people like Nolan Ryan and extending all the way down to the young men and women who participate in the Special Olympics (and even further down to those who aren't good enough to make the cut at those dedicated events). Like it or not, the differences and gradations are just a matter of degree.


RevRon's Rants said...

Better don the Nomex BVD's tonight, Steve. Dare to challenge a sacred cow, and the poseurs will be setting your shorts on fire at the first opportunity. But inasmuch as I agree with you, I guess I'd better search my drawer for a pair of non-flammable tighty whiteys, too. And Connie knows the likelihood of me finding such accoutrement around here!

Cal said...

I really don't to make this about race, but:

1) Ms. Bruce obviously does not know much about the black community. Because what Michelle Obama talked about goes on to this day with black kids.

2) It's hilarious that she was subbing for Ingraham. Especially after Laura's comment about Meghan McCain. In the black community, Meghan McCain's body type would get more "play" from men than the skinny Ingraham (or Ann Coulter for that matter). McCain's comment that she had never heard of Ingraham before her comment also made me laugh.

I can't argue with your Special Olympics comment. You are right, I don't think anyone would purposely create a special needs child. In fact, it would be the opposite probably. We'd all create boys that are 6'5" and throw 95 mph (for those athletically inclined fathers). And all our daughters would be extremely pretty and smart.

Yekaterina said...

Anyone outraged by that comment needs to grow up, forgive Mr. Obama his faux pas, and forget. It wasn't a malicious comment, so what's the big deal?

Steve Salerno said...

The sad part is that whether or not people are genuinely outraged, the Obama comment gives them the perfect opportunity to play at being outraged. In that unguarded moment, he gave his enemies political capital, the only currency that Washington may truly understand.

I had thought--again, naively--that the mood in D.C. would be less toxic once Obama swept to victory. Clearly that is not going to happen, at least not on its own. The GOP, Rush, Sean and all of their allied interests will do whatever they can to undo Obama and make him look bad, and if their efforts stymie our progress toward recovery, so much the better, from their POV; it makes the GOP stronger for 2012.

The mass public uprising that produced the Obama administration must demonstrate to the powers-that-be that this was no one-trick-pony deal--that we are, indeed, willing to see this through. Otherwise Barack, too, will become another casualty of Potomac Fever.

roger o'keefe said...

One thing I don't get is why liberals think only other liberals are entitled to freedom of speech. You see this in colleges, too, and in fact you yourself have written of it, Steve. So Tammy Bruce went off on Mrs. Obama; so what? She's not within her rights to do that? Bruce isn't the only person in America who thinks there's something slightly fake about the Obamas, I assure you. For all the talk about inclusion and brotherhood and "this is the UNITED STATES of America!", I think we got a glimpse of the real Barack Obama in last night's presser, when he gave that rude and insolent answer to the reporter who dared to ask him why he waited before coming out against the AIG bonuses. These people think they have all the answers, and don't want to be challenged on anything.

RevRon's Rants said...

Just to keep things in perspective here, anyone whose life is under a public microscope as much as the president's is inevitably going to say things that offend *someone.* At least now we have a president whose few gaffes are far outnumbered by his intelligent remarks ( I doubt that we'll be seeing an "Obamaisms" calender that chronicles enough foot-in-mouth statements to provide one for every day of his administration, as Bush did).

However, as we've already seen, the CINO's (conservatives in name only) will take and twist anything they can get in order to reinforce their rejection of the president, and will continue to delight in anything that they think will be suggestive of the president's failures - even to the extent that they welcome the country's continued suffering if it helps their own party's return from its well-earned irrelevance. I've said it before and I'll say it again: such an exercise constitutes an abandonment of the oath that every legislator takes when they are seated. It's not stretching matters to call it treason.

Anonymous said...

Hey Roger, enough already, okay guy? Geez. We get it, you hate liberals and everything having to do with liberals. But don't you see that this is like what Steve and Ron said? How can you not see that your attitude is part of the problem. I don't mean that in a personal sense, like I'm attacking you for being you. I'm only saying that if your position is that you're going to oppose any new ideas that come from the left simply because they come from the left, then how does anything change? We're right back where we started before Obama was elected. At some point you have to suck it up and accept the fact that your guy lost!

melissa said...

to Roger:

I really don't see how any part of this:

"What set this woman, Tammy Bruce, off? I don't get this. Why is she so upset with Michelle Obama? I don't see the link between anything Mrs. O said and Bruce's conclusion that we now have "trash" in the White House." (said by Steve)

implies that Tammy Bruce has no *right* to say what she said. These statments make no claim that she is not free to say whatever she wants; they are just questioning why she said what she said.

How can you not understand that questioning the motives behind a comment does not imply a rejection of the rights of the individual to make that comment? (Or maybe you do understand that but hadn't had a chance to do some liberal bashing in awhile.)

RevRon's Rants said...

"I think we got a glimpse of the real Barack Obama in last night's presser, when he gave that rude and insolent answer to the reporter who dared to ask him why he waited before coming out against the AIG bonuses."

Roger, I'd agree that we got another glimpse at the "real" Obama when he offered his response. Unlike W, Obama isn't prone to shooting his mouth off before giving thought to a matter. Rather than spit out something politically expedient - and risking being dead wrong in the process - I'd venture that Obama consulted with his advisors and the AG to determine the efficacy and legality of the actions available to him. A socialist would-be dictator, such as some have attempted to portray Obama, would have acted first, repercussions and legality issues be damned.

The fact that Obama weighed the alternatives before publicly commenting is an example of intelligence and prudence. Of course, to those who prefer knee-jerk responses, so long as those responses are offered by someone they like, I can see how it would be desirable to negatively label *any* comment made by someone from the "other side." What amazes me is how otherwise intelligent people are apparently unable to recognize just how transparent such actions are, at least, to anyone whose primary concern is the well-being of the country, rather than that of their chosen ideology.

And just so there's no confusion, my statements are not ad hominem attacks, directed at you or any other individual. They are merely reflections upon a behavior that I perceive as being - at best - ill-advised and counterproductive. I'll leave it to others to reach their own conclusions as to the individuals who exhibit that behavior.

Noadi said...

Just to clarify things. The Special Olympics are for those with developmental disabilities NOT physical disabilities though many do have them as well. They do make them feel better about themselves but even more than that it's a group effort so they are interacting with other people like them. My mom is the guardian for her foster brother who was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and has the mental and emotional capacity of a 7 or 8 year old and Special Olympics is one of those events where he doesn't feel different from everyone else and it's good for him.

On the other hand there are the Paralympics which is for those with physical disabilities and they truly are real compettetive athletes who train and sometimes compete against the able bodied (and win). The Paralympic Games are actually held immediately after the Olympics in the same facilities featuring many of the same events.

People get the two confused. I wouldn't run a race against a double leg amputee parathlete with high tech prosthetics, I'd get my ass handed to me.

Steve Salerno said...

I wouldn't run a race against a double leg amputee parathlete with high tech prosthetics, I'd get my ass handed to me.

Noadi, yes. I covered this at some length in a previous post, which I believe I linked in this post. Apart from the obvious questions raised--e.g., should people with high-tech prosthetics be allowed to compete against "normal" athletes?--there are many subtle issues here having to do with the nature of Self and, indeed, the nature of being.

Anonymous said...

I like Noadi's octopuses.