During the presidential debate earlier this week, conservative pundit and provocateur Ann Coulter tweeted the following:
I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.
Not surprisingly, her use of the word “retard” garnered plenty of criticism, including some from fellow conservative Michelle Malkin, who tweeted in response: “What a stupid, shallow thing to say, Ann.”
One of the more interesting and pointed responses to Coulter’s tweet came in the form of an open letter from John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete who has Down syndrome. Stephens writes:
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey [sic] sound bite to the next.
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are — and much, much more.
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
Coulter’s tweet was — let’s face it — rude, crass, and completely unnecessary, even compared to some of the things she’s said in the past. It sums up so well what is wrong with our current political atmosphere. Coulter may not have thought she was insulting those with handicaps like Stephens’s, but by being so dismissive of Obama — by using folks like Stephens as a convenient term to negatively describe an individual she clearly dislikes — she was, by extension, dismissive of them as well.
The words we say have meaning, and as such, they can harm or they can heal. This should be obvious, elementary stuff. Sadly, our snark-driven, soundbite-fascinated culture often encourages us to do otherwise: to not realize that and to not be thoughtful and circumspect in our speech.