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Sexist Beatdown: All God’s Children Got Disingenuous Pandering Edition

Oh, that Sarah Palin. What an activist she be! For example, she has ACTIVELY forced me to think about her all week with her one damn Facebook post on Rahm Emanuel, which also happens to be the only thing I have read on Facebook for over a year, MOSTLY because I was tired of reading people’s political updates to the effect that Obama was a gay Communist Kenyan Muslim terrorist who wanted to force-abort their baby, which is what my Wall started to look like, and… yeah. Sarah Palin’s politics are just about coherent, thoughtful, and logical enough to be worthy of a Facebook post, is what I’m saying. But what a widely read Facebook post it was!

So, Palin is not pleased that Rahm Emanuel used the word “retarded” as a pejorative. She thinks he should be fired! FIRED RIGHT NOW! And I am not pleased with that word either, but I also know that a lot of people whose lives aren’t affected by cognitive disability haven’t even considered the political implications of “retarded,” so at least right now people are talking about it, and… oh. What’s that? Now people are rallying around “retarded” and defending it, partly because Sarah Palin led the charge against it? Great. Thank you, bad-word-defenders and/or Sarah Palin, this conversation is about to get super productive.

But, you know, maybe she could still do some good? We are all God’s Children, we all have untapped potential and the ability to reconsider our attitudes and at least a little capacity for empathy, we can all realize we’ve fucked up and get better, you guys, I believe in the possibility of human change. Maybe Palin could actually do some good, I am saying, if she also called out people on the right, and made the point that this grossness is widespread and worthy of re-evaluation. Like, maybe she could call out Rush Limbaugh for his use of the term! He’s not only politically active, he actively works to define the worldview of his many listeners, so his stance on and/or use of the term has way more potential to actively do harm than one White House official saying it in a closed-door meeting. And, I mean, I’m hearing that she did call Rush Limbaugh out, so… oh, WHAT?

Sarah Palin’s spokesperson is now accusing yours truly of trying to help the White House by quoting her criticizing Rush Limbaugh. She claims Palin opposes all uses of the word “retarded,” no matter who employs it.

Okay…so what? That includes Rush, right? This is beyond absurd. Here’s what happened: I asked the Palin camp for comment on Rush’s repeated use of the word “retard,” and her spokesperson emailed back that “Palin believes crude and demeaning name calling at the expense of others is disrespectful.”

Fuck me with a snow shovel. This is about to be the most counterproductive debate about language and disability that has ever occurred. And, I mean, I should have expected it, coming from a woman whose stance on disability frequently includes flat-out untruths, a woman about whom I am used to seeing headlines along the lines of “Palin: Obama’s ‘Death Panel’ Could Kill My Down Syndrome Baby,” but this is still somehow shocking, I guess because I am a vulnerable little flower child of a girl who still assumes that the vast majority of people mean well, and don’t actively intend harm, and I always get all “but how can this be” when I learn otherwise.

So, who’s not done talking about this? Amanda Hess of Washington City Paper’s The Sexist and I are not done talking about this! In this Palin-specific edition of Sexist Beatdown, we discuss the Sarah Palin Disability Record, what it means when someone insists a political statement is “not about politics,” the power of social media, how to use name-calling to destroy the American left, and how Sarah Palin’s devoted followers are taking heed of her message about not using disability language as a slur, and incorporating it into their own lives. Hint: it includes using slightly different language when insulting Rahm Emanuel by calling him developmentally disabled.

Progress, you guys. Fuck me solid.


ILLUSTRATION: It’s been a fun ride.

SADY: Why hello!

AMANDA: Hello, m’lady

SADY: What shall we discuss on this fine morning? In my newly adopted 19th-century-dandy idiom, apparently?

AMANDA: Indubitably! Or something! I dunno: How about Sarah Palin’s Facebook updates?

SADY: OH GOOD. I ALWAYS KNEW IT WOULD COME TO THIS. Yeah: What strikes me about this Facebook update, aside from the obvious “Oh God I am reading Sarah Palin’s opinions on Facebook” feeling, is that her call-out of Rahm Emanuel is continually framed as being “not about politics.” And yet, she is calling for someone in the White House to be fired? And going all, “the President is responsible for this! Directly responsible! WHY haven’t I heard from him about it, hmmmmmmmm?” And that seems… political.

AMANDA: Yeah. Of course it is. Although the thing that struck ME about her Facebook entry was that she used euphemisms for two words: “F—ing” and “N-Word” but not for the word she was concerned with everyone banding about in this case. And another thing! It’s also kind of funny that Sarah Palin thinks that the President of the United States firing a member of his staff is, like, a reasonable result of a Sarah Palin Facebook update.

SADY: Well, you know: it is the POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA! But I mean, I keep thinking that the reason she’s all, “this isn’t about politics, it’s about God’s children and a patriot in Somewheresville and decency because life is precious, and God, and the Bible,” is that she’s playing kind of a rhetorical con game. In that disability IS a political issue, but it’s one on which Sarah Palin happens to be on kind of the wrong side. So it has to be apolitical in her framing – even though her means are political – so that, you know, we don’t get to politicizing it and figuring out some basic stuff like universal healthcare keeps disabled people from dying on the fucking subway platform where they live, and so on and so forth.

AMANDA: Right. Palin’s concerns are clearly entirely political, and not at all about securing actual rights for the disabled. But even so: words are important, and Palin has gotten 13,841 people who probably do not give a fuck about this stuff generally to agree that using that word is offensive. She also got Emanuel to apologize, which I think is a reasonable expectation (compared to forcing him out of the administration).

SADY: Yeah. And, I mean, people are having a conversation about the word. People aside from the left-of-the-left people I’m used to seeing discussing the word.

AMANDA: However, now we also have people who hate Sarah Palin (and there are a lot of them) using that word in spite. Like this commenter: “Give us a break Sarah, the people he was addressing were acting retarded and that group didn’t contain a single person you are defending. We all know he was not referring in any way to children or any other mentally challenged individuals.” So, the way that we talk about this stuff is important. Starting this discussion in order to score an absurd political point—and refusing to engage in issues of disability beyond politics—isn’t helping anyone.

SADY: Yeah, exactly. What kills me is that in the comments, people who are anti-Palin are starting to get really amped up about making “retarded” jokes to prove that they don’t like Sarah Palin. Like, one guy just wrote “your baby is fucking retarded.” Or there’s this example of point-missing: “Come to think of it I believe Rahm Emmanuel has a mental deficit that he and his president fail to recognize or adknowledge.” FROM A SUPPORTER.

AMANDA: Oh my goodness.

SADY: But I guess she said “mental deficit?” Because if she’d just said “Rahm Emanuel is fucking retarded,” THAT would have been wrong? And that’s where these language games get tricky. Because it’s true: the only people I’m used to seeing discussing this are the left-of-the-left disability activists, often disabled feminists because that is where I roll, discussion-wise. But when it makes it into a more mainstream discussion, especially when it’s tied to something this obviously disingenuous . . . You have someone who’s making an ableist comment but isn’t able to recognize it as such because she’s only identified the PEJORATIVE WORD as the problem, not the attitude. Or people who now construe using the word “retarded” as a pejorative as a bold political act.

AMANDA: It’s a can of worms. I do find it interesting that Sarah Palin, Republican darling, has taken it upon herself to become the queen of “PC” now, even though complaining about liberals forcing political correctness on the world is a treasured Republican pastime. And I think Sarah Palin does represent the worst kind of “PC,” which is to be only “politically” correct, and not correct in your social policies, or the way you live your life, or your expectations of all people, but “correct” only in a way that sticks it to people you don’t like.

SADY: Right. It’s the use of certain, I guess we can call them “PC,” actions to boost your own status as a righteous person rather than to make any change. And obviously she’s always been selective with her PC—one of the great triumphs of Sarah Palin in politics is that she kind of, if not pioneered, then perfected the use of typically left ideals to shut down the left. Like, “sexism!” Which means not challenging my candidacy, but sticks because there is actual sexism on the left. Or, “choice!” Which… actually, I don’t even know how “choice” applies to anything Sarah Palin has ever stood for.

AMANDA: Being brave enough to make the choice to keep a baby and then making the choice to force all other women make the same choice? I mean, part of the reason that it does stick is because us liberals are, like, interested in this stuff. We’re interested in dismantling sexism and ableism and racism (OK: Sarah Palin does not seem overly concerned with racism), and we’re interested in doing it from all sides, but Palin is only interested in doing it from her side. The amazing thing, to me, is making it stick among conservatives.

SADY: Right. That’s the thing: She’s coming at the left in the places that they care about. She’s found the Achilles heel, which is – you can call us Commie pinko bleeding-heart pussies from now until Doomsday, and we won’t really care. But DON’T TELL US WE ARE INSUFFICIENTLY SENSITIVE. Because we care about that stuff, and are trying hard (uh, some of us) and aiming that accusation at us forces us to slow down and self-examine and meanwhile you are whipping a crowd of racists into a hardcore voting frenzy. Which is why I think she’s so beloved by certain Republicans; this is good “politics” even if it’s not good politics. Although, on the topic of Emanuel’s supporters, I have to say: Some of them are not doing themselves (or myself) any favors here.

AMANDA: Yeah. Also, I mean, I don’t doubt that there are many people among Palin’s fan base who do care very deeply about these sorts of issues, because, like Palin herself, they were brought into caring about disability through a child or other family member. And now, tragically, I think, Sarah Palin is there to tell these families that they can do just fine raising their kids without any sort of government “interference,” which is probably true of a certain person who just sold a billion copies of a book that certain person didn’t have to write.

SADY: Yeah! Government interference is totally unnecessary, if you happen to be a rich lady! Which is why it is so weird that disabled people only ever belong to families that are super-rich. God has a Special Plan for us all, truly! Also true: All disabled people HAVE families. Private wealth, which all disabled people have access to, is always and totally sufficient to their needs. Like: WHAT. I have no doubt that Sarah Palin cares about her son, but if she cares about the ISSUE, she’s either completely devoid of empathy or just really, really stupid.

AMANDA: Now the only thing left to be cleared up here is Rahm Emanuel’s mouth!

SADY: Dear Rahm: Your usage is unbecoming. I like to swear, just like you, and also I like to rant at people in a kind of mean way over issues, as I am aware that you apparently do also. I am here to tell you that you can be a big swearing jackass without using the term “retarded.” Love, Lady Who Yells On The Internet.


  1. Adrianna wrote:

    I really hate Sarah Palin for a wide range of reasons, some of which are directly her fault and some of which are not.
    I will say this though – this is honestly the first time I’ve heard a real open discussion on the word “retarded”. I don’t use it a whole bunch (because I have other creative expletives that I enjoy) but I never thought about it as a social issue.
    My mother ran a home day-care when we were younger and I’d say about half the kids had some sort of disability, ranging from ADHD to severe autism. As I look back on it, she was so careful to make sure we all felt part of a cohesive family…she made sure we learned to respect one another, respect one another’s boundaries, to be helpful and kind…
    The fact that the last time I thought about what it meant to be disabled was when I was seven is pretty damn humbling.

    LONG POINT SHORT – I hate that Sarah Palin like no one’s business, but this is a public conversation that is long overdue. Sure, maybe the arguments aren’t very productive and there’s lots of posturing going on, but we should be grateful that happening and we should use every effort to make this a “teachable moment” in our communities (including the online one)

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  2. bookbat wrote:

    This series of language posts has been straight up AWESOME. I just want you to know that.

    Friday, February 5, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink
  3. Maura wrote:

    I have no doubt that Sarah Palin cares about her son, but if she cares about the ISSUE, she’s either completely devoid of empathy or just really, really stupid.

    She cares about the issue insofar at it affects her and her son. She’d never give a single thought to the issue if she didn’t have a child with down syndrome. She can’t see anything past her own front yard. It’s one thing to develop awareness of an issue once you’re affected by it (although it would be nice if she, and a whole lot of other people, would think about this stuff just because it needs to be thought about). It’s another to see that issue only through your own experience.

    Gah! Palin inspires feelings in me that I don’t like.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  4. snobographer wrote:

    She could be a pretty decent antidisableism advocate if she was halfway consistent about it. She got on Obama’s case about his “Special Olympics” comment (on Jay Leno, was it?) too, even after Obama apologized before anybody even asked him to. But Rush Limbaugh’s all “retarded retard” and she suddenly gets all mealy-mouthed about it.
    I liked your point that she’s much the same way about feminism. Her advocacy extends to calling out anybody Team Blue for sexist remarks for political points.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 11:55 am | Permalink
  5. al_zorra wrote:

    Rahm Emanuel should never have been appointed. He’s such a rightwinger. But now he’ll never be let go because it will look like pandering to the $p.


    Trainwreck, plane wreck, stage coach overturns, multiple car crash pile-up plus blizzard, that’s our dems.

    Love, c.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  6. al_zorra wrote:

    $p would have more credibility herself, though, if she didn’t wave Trig around like, yanno, a pompom prop all the time.

    As I’m not a mother my advice on childrearing is always spot on. [sarcasm icon goes here)

    Love, C.

    Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  7. Broggly wrote:
    Looks like the right’s trying similar sort of thing in Australia (although Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt are just our leading trollumnists, while from across the Pacific it looks like Palin still has lots of supporters). Although I guess it’s not like Rush was the one acting horrified that the word retarded was used, and actively mocking someone’s disability is much worse than saying something offensive.

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 4:14 am | Permalink
  8. Erin wrote:

    “She can’t see anything past her own front yard.”

    Except for Russia!

    Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Permalink
  9. alanna wrote:

    Erin – that will never stop being hilarious.

    Sady, thank you so much for this post (and others on the same topic). It’s not something I had given much thought to. I’ve found this series very eye-opening and thought-provoking. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Monday, February 8, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink
  10. woland wrote:

    Who appointed Sarah Palin the Official Arbiter of When it’s OK to Say Retard and When it’s Not? Perhaps, y’know, the people ACTUALLY AFFECTED by the use of the word – some of whom are activists quite able to launch an ENTIRE CAMPAIGN to raise awareness about the fact that “retard” is an offensive slur – can SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES about whether Rush Limbaugh’s use was Funny Funny Satire or rather his usual douchebaggery.

    Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 12:54 am | Permalink
  11. Sandra wrote:

    The problem, just like “gay”, or “girl”, or “cunt” (in Europe), is when it’s used as a pejorative. That’s why we style “nigger” as “the N-word”—because, at least during some periods, that word has been used only as a pejorative. (I just saw video of Richard Pryor’s moving change of heart, as he gave up the word.)

    That’s why, when your doctor says “Your beautiful baby is a bit retarded and will have different circumstances growing up”, he’s in the right—albeit increasingly quaint, since (due to misuse) these terms are moving targets. (“Idiot” used to have the same tint.) Calling a jerk, or even someone who is retarded, “retarded” as part of a put-down is not OK.

    Call me “dyke” as a term of endearment but don’t say “that’s so gay” about something bad. Easy enough?

    Saturday, February 13, 2010 at 5:16 am | Permalink

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  1. links for 2010-02-06 « Embololalia on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 11:04 am

    […] Tiger Beatdown › Sexist Beatdown: All God’s Children Got Disingenuous Pandering Edition AMANDA: It’s a can of worms. I do find it interesting that Sarah Palin, Republican darling, has taken it upon herself to become the queen of “PC” now, even though complaining about liberals forcing political correctness on the world is a treasured Republican pastime. And I think Sarah Palin does represent the worst kind of “PC,” which is to be only “politically” correct, and not correct in your social policies, or the way you live your life, or your expectations of all people, but “correct” only in a way that sticks it to people you don’t like. (tags: pcgonemaaaaaad ability rahmemanuel sarahpalin slurs) […]