White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel apologized to the head of the Special Olympics today after the Wall Street Journal reported the fiery Chicagoan privately called a group of liberal activists "f—ing retarded."
Last August, Emanuel "showed up at a weekly strategy session featuring liberal groups and White House aides," the Journal's Peter Wallsten reported lastTuesday."Some attendees said they were planning to air ads attacking conservative Democrats who were balking at Mr. Obama's health-care overhaul. 'F—ing retarded,' Mr. Emanuel scolded the group, according to several participants. He warned them not to alienate lawmakers whose votes would be needed on health care and other top legislative items."
A White House official confirms that Emanuel made the remark and reports that Emanuel called Tim Shriver last week when the Journal story first appeared to apologize to the disabled community and the apology was accepted.
"The White House remains committed to addressing the concerns and needs of Americans living with disabilities and recognizes that derogatory remarks demean us all," the official said.
The apology was reported earlier today by Politico's Ben Smith though it was first reported last Thursday by Disability Scoop, which bills itself as "the first and only national news organization serving the developmental disability community including autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fragile X and intellectual disability, among others."
Shriver heads the Special Olympics, which has launched a campaign urging people to stop using the term "retarded" as an insult, "Spread the word to end the word."
Former Alaska Gov, Sarah Palin, who has a son with Down's Syndrome, was offended by Emanuel's reported remark, posting on her Facebook page: "Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the 'N-word' or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.
"A patriot in North Andover, Massachusetts, notified me of Rahm’s 'retarded” slam,'" Palin wrote. "I join this gentleman, who is the father of a beautiful child born with Down Syndrome, in asking why the Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society and other groups condemning Rahm’s degrading scolding have been completely ignored by the White House. No comment from his boss, the president?
"As my friend in North Andover says, 'This isn’t about politics; it’s about decency. I am not speaking as a political figure but as a parent and as an everyday American wanting my child to grow up in a country free from mindless prejudice and discrimination, free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better… Have you no sense of decency, sir?'"
This is not the first time someone who works in the White House has called Shriver after an errant remark. Last March, President Obama called Shriver from Air Force One after joking on the Tonight Show that his notoriously bad bowling skills were "like the Special Olympics or something."
(One alternate theory is that the president was comparing Jay Leno's patronizing "That's very good, Mr. President," to the affirmations given to Special Olympics athletes, but that's not how Shriver took it, nor has any White House official supported that explanation.)