Four months ago I don't know that I would have given this story a second thought. Today, as the proud new father of a son with Down syndrome, I am unable to overlook last night's "offhand comment" spoken by the most powerful man in the world on late-night TV.
President Obama made history last night by being the first ever sitting President to appear on a late-night television show as a guest of Jay Leno. I understand his attempt at self-depreciating humor (in case you didn't watch the video clip, go here for the transcript [HT: Huffington Post]) - generally that's always a safe bet for a good laugh. I'm sure it wasn't mean-spirited or meant in an offensive way. I know he called the president of the Special Olympics and apologized even before the show aired; I know he has now extended an invitation to Special Olympics athletes to the White House to bowl and play basketball (I'll keep my opinion on that to myself... you do the math). The fact of the matter is that "off-hand" or not, I expect more of the American President.
Being is a position of such visibility and responsibility is a tough task - people hold such people to a higher standard and rightly so. By accepting such a position one agrees to live by that higher standard. I am personally learning the power of words all over again - whereas just a few short months ago it would not have been uncommon to hear me call myself "retarded" when I make a silly mistake, now as the father of a son who's mental and physical development is technically "retarded" (i.e. slower than normal) I start to see red whenever I overhear someone make such an "offhand" comment even though I know the intent is most probably not harmful or derogatory.
I really don't have much more to say. There's plenty more that could be said and IS being said around the blogosphere - many are turning this into a political "look what we've gotten ourselves into!" thing - my intention is not that. If anything, may this simply serve as a reminder that it really doesn't matter who you are - the President of the United States, Joe the Plumber, a rockstar, a housewife, a blogger - think twice about the words you speak. They have the power to wound or to heal. And once they're spoken, there's no taking them back.