In the middle of the whole "retarded" brouhaha, the Secretary of Education had to apologize for a perfectly innocent remark aimed at the education community in New Orleans. Arne Duncan said that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans." While the comment was not intentionally insensitive, I don't think, it was taken as a slap in the face by those living in the area.
What outsiders don't completely understand is that Hurricane Katrina was a life changing event for the people along the Gulf Coast. Not just those living in New Orleans, but also other parts of the coast. The wounds are still right at the surface. Some areas were much harder hit - those along the Mississippi coast - and complete towns were wiped out. New Orleans was at least blessed with a standing infrastructure in place. The French Quarter was spared since it is above sea level - built there in the wisdom of those who founded the city.
So, though Duncan was trying to say that with the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina comes a wiping of the slate. A clean start for the completely dysfunctional educational system in New Orleans. Much like a remark made by former First Lady Barbara Bush at the time of the event and those displaced by the hurricane came to Houston and other cities to start over. She said they would have life better than ever before. What she meant was that a whole world of new opportunity would open up for the evacuees. And, that is exactly what has happened. My city of Houston opened its arms and provided shelter and sustenance to all. In many cases, we still are, in fact. They have benefited from free rent, free utilities and job and education opportunities not available in their previous home.
But, the political speech police are ever active. Each and every sentence by anyone with a recognizable name is parsed and criticized. Duncan apologized for speaking his truth after it backfired. He should, instead, have received kudos for the attention his department has showered on New Orleans and the attention now being harnessed by concerned parents and others in the community. He should be encouraged to continue on into Mississippi and Alabama where communities were destroyed, leaving schools and libraries flattened.
Build up, don't tear down.
For political wonks and junkies, it was no big surprise to read recently reports that Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel lashed out at liberal activists some months back by calling them "f--king retards". Emanuel is known for crude and obnoxious behavior. He employs a take-no-prisoners approach to politics. The dirty little secret that emerged is that liberals are just as prejudiced in their personal actions as are some on the other side of the aisle. People are people.
While the left insists on having the high ground in arguments of prejudice and bigotry, it is simply not true. What a person does in private is who that person is, the true display of character. That Emanuel was exposed as a man of little personal character is not breaking news. What was news is that after all these months, when exposed, he had to apologize for his insensitive remark.
Who called loudest for an apology? Sarah Palin. She also insists Emanuel be fired. That won't happen, of course, but it is her demand. Palin, mother of a child born with Down Syndrome, is a champion of the mentally impaired. So, here's a rub to conservatives - she has gone after Rush Limbaugh, head guru to the far right on talk radio, as he took off on Emanuel on his show. Limbaugh used the word "retard" over and over for effect. He lambasted the politically correct who demand twisting vocabularies into softer terms. Palin called his display "crude and demeaning". She didn't, however call for his removal from talk radio. She didn't even call for a boycott for effect.
Nor has Palin severed ties with Texas Governor Rick Perry. Palin is scheduled to appear at a Perry fundraiser in Houston. She has endorsed Perry in the hotly contested GOP primary. Perry, however, employs a campaign adviser, David Carney, who is said to have repeatedly said "retarded" in a conference call between all three GOP campaigns as they worked out plans for a televised debate. Palin has not uttered a word about this revelation.
Also, in the same meme, along with Palin, rock and roller Ted Nugent will appear at said fundraiser. He is quoted as using the word 'retarded' in describing folks who don't approve of hunting. This was in Royal Flush Magazine. He said hunting and eating deer is perfect, "unless you're retarded." Again, silence from Palin.
That's the problem with the speech police. Once you begin, it is a slippery slope. It must be exhausting. It is easy for conservatives to bash liberals on such topics. But, in fairness, conservatives must be as honest in criticism. If Palin wants to police the word, 'retarded', that is her prerogative. But, as a self-proclaimed leader of the common man, she has to be honest and call it as it is on both sides.
As a woman of a certain age, I remember lots of terms that have fallen by the wayside. Mostly for the better, it is important to not get so caught up in sensitive feelings. From my own childhood, I remember a common adjective,"mongoloid" for mentally retarded, also a description of mentally disabled. None of it was meant to be cruel or demeaning. When bullying people use terms now viewed as derogatory, certainly the person should be called out. Doesn't matter who the insensitive, nasty person is in real life.