That would be publicly criticizing your political opponents for remarks they make in private.
The latest example (that I know of–I am notoriously behind the times, or at least I was the last time I checked) is Sarah Palin saying Rahm Emanuel deserves to be fired because in a White House strategy meeting he called a proposal to run attack ads against Democrats opposed to health-care legislation “f***ing retarded” (as reported in the Wall Street Journal). Now, unlike some other Americans I can think of, I happen to like Sarah Palin and don’t think she is too dumb to be President. I am beginning to think, however, that she may be too petty and unreasonable to be President. I understand “f***ing retarded” is not a nice thing to say to anybody, even in private, but fire somebody over it? Really?
She argues that it disparages the disabled, comparing it to the N-word, which may or may not be fair, I don’t know, but here’s the thing: I don’t care. If Rahm Emanuel says the words “f***ing retarded,” what does that say about him? That he’s like a lot of other American English speakers who grew up using “retarded” as a playground insult and haven’t grown out of it, despite the fact that it’s the 21st century and we all should have gotten the memo that we’re no longer in the fourth grade. It says that he isn’t very careful about how he speaks in a non-public setting. If he were a more refined and mature person, he might have called the proposal “f***ing ridiculous” or “a good way to shoot yourself in the f***ing foot.” But apparently he is not that refined and mature, so he called it “retarded.”
Well, okay then. Tsk, tsk. That was not nice, Rahm Emanuel. People with actual developmental disabilities would probably resent your implication that they couldn’t come up with a better strategy than running attack ads against your own people. Too bad there were no developmentally disabled people in the room to call you on that one. That’s why it’s up to the WSJ to report that comment verbatim so that Sarah Palin, the mother of a developmentally disabled person, can demand your resignation because obviously someone so insensitive and dismissive of developmentally disabled people has no place in government.
Maybe it’s easy for me to roll my eyes at this story because my special-needs children don’t have disabilities that can be used as epithets. No one says, “That idea is f***ing autistic.” No one would even know what that meant. But I would have to be awfully naive to believe that my autistic son isn’t destined at some point to be called “retarded” by someone who a) can’t differentiate between disabilities and/or b) doesn’t mean it in a nice way. So I get that we should not be using “retarded” as an insult. It’s mean and it’s rude and it’s inappropriate. If I were in a room with Rahm Emanuel and he tried to tell me my ideas were “retarded,” I would certainly inform him that he wasn’t insulting me but retarded people, and he ought to be ashamed of himself. And he would probably be like, “What the **** are you talking about?” because no one who uses “retarded” as an insult is thinking about retarded people when he says it. If Rahm Emanuel were at the Special Olympics, I reckon he would not use the word “retarded” so cavalierly. Should he be training himself not to use it cavalierly in other settings? Yes, but he should probably also be training himself not to say the F-word so much. Let’s not imagine that his verbal carelessness necessarily translates into an actual animosity or callous disregard toward the disabled.
As a high-profile mother of a special-needs child, Sarah Palin is in a good position to advocate the interests of disabled children. Inasmuch as the government can do any good for (or refrain from doing any bad to) disabled children, Ms. Palin ought to be talking about that. On the list of challenges faced by disabled people and their families, improper use of the word “retarded” in a private setting by someone who doesn’t know you from Adam ranks relatively low. In a perfect world no one would be using “retarded” as an insult, but is this really the issue you want to be focusing your time and energy on? Is there nothing more important, when you have a special-needs child? Is this really his most special need, that strangers not use the word “retarded” incorrectly whilst talking amongst themselves?
Perhaps I should have a bone to pick with whoever thought it was important that we know the exact wording Mr. Emanuel used when he shot down someone else’s idea as [ill-considered]. I don’t know. If “retarded” is like the “N-word,” maybe we should be getting on the reporter for not publishing the quote as “f****** r*******.” But whatever. My point is that Rahm Emanuel didn’t say this in a press conference. It was a closed-door strategy session, and even if “closed-door” means nothing in light of the fact that it got into the WSJ, it is still obvious that Mr. Emanuel was not crafting a statement for public consumption. Rahm Emanuel says plenty of crap publicly for conservatives to take issue with. The field is ripe for the harvest. If there’s some public statement or policy that indicates Rahm Emanuel or the Obama administration has it in for the disabled, talk about that. Otherwise, don’t bother me with it. I don’t care.
I’m not impressed with the argument that turnabout is fair play, liberals are always pouncing on random comments made by conservatives and demanding apologies, now the shoe’s on the other foot, etc.–so if Sarah Palin were a Democrat, she could say whatever crap thing she wanted, and if Rahm Emanuel were a Republican, he’d have resigned in shame by now, blah blah blah. No. That’s not how I want to spin this. Are we not conservatives? Do we not have bigger fish to fry?
And now Rush Limbaugh is talking about “retards” on his show–which is, the last time I checked, a public forum and has a more prominent place in the public discourse than a closed-door strategy session at the White House. (Not to mention the fact that “retard” is an uglier word than “retarded.”) No Facebook alerts from Sarah Palin on that one yet. (Don’t worry, I’m not holding my breath.)