Monday, March 23, 2009

Growing Unease

Thoughtlessness seems to emerge as one of President's Obama's major weaknesses.

Recent examples include:

Controlled anger as constructive policies?

These statements are clever and ridiculous. You can't "channel" this kind of anger, let alone constructively. Populist anger is often illiberal and indiscriminate. The post-Civil War populist movement brought needed changes but also disenfranchised African-Americans in the South through Jim Crow laws and physical terror. As historian Richard Hofstadter noted in his famous book "The Age of Reform" (1955), the connection was not accidental. Further, Hofstadter cautioned, it is hard for political leaders to see the moment at which a populist outburst "has passed beyond the demand for necessary reforms" to "the expression of a resentment so inclusive" that it attacks the capacity of society to sustain values such as the rule of law.

Special Olympics

So, Raimer said, he was displeased to hear of President Barack Obama's recent comment on The Tonight Show, in which he jokingly disparaged his own bowling skills by comparing them to the "Special Olympics."

"I was very disturbed," Raimer said. "It hurt. It just hurt."

A number of county residents involved with Special Olympics said they felt Obama's comment had no real malice behind it, although they did feel it was ill advised.

Loretta Claiborne of York is an internationally known Special Olympian who has been the subject of a book and a Disney movie.

She acknowledges that every one says something he or she regrets at some time or another. Still, she believes that someone as prominent as the president of the United States should think before he speaks.

Everyone makes allowances for Obama, giving a the best benefit of a doubt. But I cannot. There is something about this unintentional insult to people with disabilities that I find worrisome. It has slipped out too easily.

The kerfuffle reminded of the Box Hill scene in Jane Austen's Emma. After Emma offends Miss Bates in front of all their friends, Mr. Knightly reprimands her in a way that could also serve in Mr. Obama's case:

".. were she prosperous, I could allow much for the occasional prevalence of the ridiculous over the good. Were she a woman of fortune, I would leave every harmless absurdity to take its chance, I would not quarrel with you for any liberties of manner. Were she your equal in situation-- but, Emma, consider how far this is from being the case. She is poor; she has sunk from the comforts she was born to; and, if she live to old age, must probably sink more. Her situation should secure your compassion. It was badly done, indeed! You, whom she had known from an infant, whom she had seen grow up from a period when her notice was an honour, to have you now, in thoughtless spirits, and the pride of the moment, laugh at her, humble her--and before her niece, too--and before others, many of whom (certainly some,) would be entirely guided by your treatment of her."

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