The Sexist

Sexist Beatdown: Sarah Palin’s Slur on All God’s Children Edition

After it was reported this week that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had used the phrase "fucking retarded" to refer to a group of Democrats, Sarah Palin took to Facebook to decry Emanuel's word-choice as a "slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities"—and to demand that Obama give him the ax. Prepare to get totally fucking deep into the philosophical import of a Sarah Palin Facebook update, everybody.

In this edition of Sexist Beatdown, Sady Doyle of Tiger Beatdown and I parse the new Republican PC strategy, examine Palin's record on disability (it ranges from condescending to damaging), and propose that Palin's adoption of a far-left feminist talking point is a sign of the coming apocalypse.

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.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • Banyan

    Sarah Palin also publicly criticized Rush Limbaugh for using language that is harmful to people who have a cognitive disability. The strategy of criticizing people on both sides of the aisle for prejudicial speech is rarely used by people who only have a "political agenda." I do, however, believe that the fact that she would call for Rahm to resign for using a word that, however harmful, is common parlance, reveals a "political" agenda. That being said having a political agenda and a "political" agenda are not mutually exclusive. In other words, Palin wants to increase respect for disabled people as well as score political points.
    As for the claim that, if Palin really cared about disabled people she would become a big government liberal, I believe this is an oversimplification of the factors that lead people either left or right.

  • DEO

    Sarah didn't criticize Limbaugh!
    Meg, Sarah's poodle, issued a blanket statement about bad hair days or something WHEN PRESSED....and not on Sarah's Holy FACEBOOK parchment.
    HERE'S a RE-CAP on what you call PALIN criticizing RUSH:
    JUST a general statement, not mentioning any party at all.
    The statement was NOT issued by Palin, but by a staffer.
    It did not appear on Palin's FB

    The GENERAL statement did not mention Rush at ALL.

    Me thinks Palin MAY have had a political agenda after all...who would have thought that???

  • Banyan
  • Amanda Hess

    Banyan: Nope. Her spokesperson claims that Palin's sentiment is not aimed at Limbaugh. So no, she has not publicly criticized him; she has only publicly criticized Rahm Emanuel, and then a vague "everyone else" who uses that word.

  • Banyan

    @Amanda Hess
    O.K. a lack of a targeted critique demonstrates a "political," agenda but that doesn't negate the fact that she also has a real political agenda to critique harmful speech; for reasons outlined in #1.

  • bob wright

    Good discussion/blog. I personally like to use the word "retarded". The awkward thing for those who think it's unkind or uncouth, is that it's descriptive. The fact that retards are retarded, cretins cretinous, idiots idiotic, and so on, means that trying to describe them in an upbeat, sunny, challenge-embracing way just leads to the new word being sussed out. "Oh, don't act so differently mentally gifted - you know what I'm talking about". The word doesn't really matter - you're just saying "You are acting like someone with a tongue that's too big and an IQ that's too small. It's just a variation on calling someone "stupid". Are retards kind of ... stupid? Well, yeah. One would prefer to not come right out and say so, but it's pretty ... stupid, to deny it. So, the reason not to say "retard" (which is of course just yet-another well-meaning euphemism) is because it might be hurtful. But here's the cool thing about retards: they don't give a crap what Rahm Emanuel says. It's always some retard like Sarah Palin who cares *on behalf* of someone who would have hurt feelings if they weren't retarded. And then someone like Emanuel has to apologize to some non-retarded person serving as the canary in the mine of outrage, because no real retarded person will show up to graciously accept the apology. And I have no particular intention of amending my speech to cater to the bossiness of retards who are serving only their own feelies, and not those of actual retarded people.

  • Lisa

    She is a complete hypocrite!

  • Banyan

    @Bob Wright

    There are some legitimately retarded people, those with IQs between 60-80, who are capable of feeling shamed by by Emanuel's remark. The argument would be that we should have specific words for specific levels of stupidity in order to not offend those who have clinical stupidity. This seems a little silly because by placing your average moron in the same class as retarded people you actually elevate the status of retarded people. My big objection to the approval of stupid jokes and disapproval of retard jokes is that it ignores the fact that calling a dumb person is ALSO very hurtful. We assume that retarded people are helpless and idiots are willfully so; not true.
    I think as a culture it may help to use words like philistine or feckless, that shame people for their willful ignorance, and not their bad genes. However, I don't think this is really practical, and words like retard and lunatic are here to stay. It's best to use these words with a good measure of caution and awareness of how they will affect other creatures.

  • Toysoldier


    Like most people involved in politics Palin is selective.Certain words, comments, phrases and opinions are only offensive if they come from the opposition. So if a prominent figure in a political movement advocates killing half the human race, that might be problematic. If it is Mary Daly suggesting we kill boys and men, no feminists complain. If it is someone making racist comments, that might be a problem. If it is Harry Reid saying the President does not speak with a "negro dialectic," (or Chris Matthews "forgetting for an hour Obama was black") no liberals complain. If someone accuses the President of the United States of being bigoted, not an American citizen, misrepresents his religious views and calls him anti-democracy, that might be problematic. If Fox News regularly suggests and implies Obama hates white people, was not born in the U.S., calls him a socialist and keeps saying he is Muslim, no conservatives complain.

    It is selective, i.e. it is only wrong when the people you hate do it. It certainly is hypocritical, but is that not a requisite for participating in politics?

  • Libby

    I think Sarah Palin has gotten a lot of critism over the past year. I don't agree with her politics, but the harsh attacks by liberals are really starting to get on my nerves. Just because you don't agree with someone's beliefs doesn't mean that you have to attack her, her family, and her intelligence. She's not a Yale graduate, but she's a nice woman. As feminsits, we can all agree that having a woman get so close to Vice-President is quite an acomplishment. Palin exemplifies what we support: women shouldn't have to choose between becoming a mother and having a successful career.

    Palin isn't attacking Emanuel for the sake of politics but for the sake of her son. As the sister of a disabled man, language like that is truely horrifying, no matter who it comes from, Emanuel or Limbaugh. I think Palin should be commended for calling out offensive language. In the article, you mentioned the fact that people use more a"cceptable" euphemisms for "retarded". I think you're completely right here. No matter what the words you use are, the intent is still the same. However, the comments of her supporters are not her fault.