Rahm Emanuel recently said this.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Emanuel, exasperated upon learning that liberal special-interest groups were planning to run ads against conservative Democrats not supportive of health care reform, blasted the plan as “f—— retarded” over the summer.
This prompted Sarah Palin, that beacon of hope for morons everywhere, to say this.
In a post titled “Are You Capable of Decency, Rahm Emanuel?,” Palin wrote, “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,” adding, “it’s heartbreaking.”
I’m always amazed when I see people trying to make such tenuous connections. The reality is that the only thing that connects “retard” and racial slurs is that both are meant to be offensive. Why each one is offensive is another thing.
“Nigger” is meant to disparage a person based upon race as if there is something inherently negative about being a certain color. Since reasonable people tend to agree that skin color has no normative value, the word can be rejected because it is offensive in a wide array of contexts (though not when specifically defined). “Retard” and its derivatives, on the other hand, are meant to disparage a person for saying or doing something unintelligent, as if there is something inherently negative about not being smart. Reasonable people tend to agree that there is something negative about a lack of intelligence.*
There is, however, a narrow band of usage where “retard” might be considered legitimately offensive to people who are actually retarded. This would be when one uses the term to reference the goodness or general value of a person. Emanuel didn’t do this, instead referencing the quality of the idea of weakening the Democratic party with the goal of passing healthcare. (And he’s right – weaken the Democrats and who do these people think will take power?)
I hate political sensitivity at the expense of linguistics.
*Boy! I can’t wait for the first Clever Carl who disagrees with me to come by and turn this one around on me! Internet. Scoff.