Rush and the R-Word

Expressing frustration with members of the Democrats’ angry leftwing base, in an unguarded moment Rahm Emmanuel, the president’s chief of staff, called them “f—–g retards.” Conservative radio talker Rush Limbaugh jokingly called Emmanuel’s slur an insult to the nation’s mentally handicapped (for being compared with Democrats).

Then Limbaugh continued mocking the Obama administration, recalling that last March the president said his bowling was so bad that it was like “the Special Olympics.” In response to this latest insensitive comment, Sarah Palin, who has a child with Down syndrome, called on Obama to fire Emmanuel.

So the administration, taking a page from its “beer summit” playbook, is floating the idea of a White House meeting with advocates for the disabled (though I doubt the ex-governor of Alaska will be invited). Limbaugh, using Emmanuel’s words against him (as he did Harry Reid’s earlier blunder saying Obama was a “light-skinned negro”), called this proposed gathering the “retard summit.”

Limbaugh’s many media critics were quick to pounce, opining that Palin, to maintain her credibility (as if they believe she ever had any), will have to come down as hard on Limbaugh as she did on Emmanuel. I don’t think so.

Palin knows Limbaugh’s schtick better than his liberal critics do. He was mocking Emmanuel, not the developmentally challenged. Anyone who knows Washington isn’t surprised this kind of language came out of the Chicago hatchet man’s mouth, but anyone who follows Limbaugh knows that he keeps the show clean (for the most part). I think most of the outrage over Limbaugh (but not, somehow, over Emmanuel) is as phony as Obama’s promise to pursue spending restraint-kind of like O.J. searching for the “real” killer.

However, as someone with a disability myself, I cringed when I heard Limbaugh say the words “retard summit,” even though I knew what he was trying to do. That’s because while Emmanuel was targeting recalcitrant leftists with his hateful speech, Limbaugh was actually using the “R-word” in describing people with mental challenges. He said they would come to the White House for a “retard summit.” This hit a little too close to home. So even though Limbaugh was attempting to skewer Emmanuel (who has it coming) for his contempt for the mentally disabled (and leftists), Rush ended up offending innocent bystanders needlessly.

And from a political standpoint, Limbaugh’s verbal misstep has backfired, at least somewhat. He has succeeded in taking the spotlight of scrutiny off of Emmanuel, where it belongs, and put it on himself. Perhaps Rahm Emmanuel should send him a thank-you note.

I know what Limbaugh said, and what he meant. But he should do the big thing anyway. Apologize.

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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