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Obama's Gutter Ball Threatens to Haunt Him

By Scott Wilson
The subject has vexed him before, though the offense then was more political sin than personal affront to millions of Americans.

A president who this week spoke fluently about the changing nature of America's middle class, plug-in hybrid cars, mortgage-backed securities and public-school reform stumbled -- and stumbled badly -- when it came to a topic he just can't seem to get right. Bowling.

Saying his improving yet still admittedly lousy bowling game is "like Special Olympics or something," President Obama offended many disabled Americans, their champions, and others who puzzled over how a man who rarely misspeaks could make such a joke. Some of those most upset are among his staunchest supporters.

The president made the remarks Thursday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" at the end of a day spent in Southern California campaigning for his budget proposal.

During a town hall forum in Los Angeles earlier in the day, a disabled man told Obama "about the true renaissance that's happening" among people with physical disabilities, asking the president how "your disability agenda will release this emerging potential that's currently wasted and untapped?"

"Well, you are exactly right that we need everybody," Obama responded. "And every program that we have has to be thinking on the front end, how do we make sure that it is inclusive and building into it our ability to draw on the capacities of persons with disabilities."

Then on to Leno, where he said that after practicing in the White House lanes, he recently bowled a 129, saying "it's like -- it was like Special Olympics or something." The crowd laughed.

Soon after the show, Obama phoned Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, to apologize. The organization serves some 200 million disabled people around the world and stages regular international sporting events.

Shriver, the nephew of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), whose early endorsement helped propel Obama to the Democratic nomination, told ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday that the president expressed regret "in a way that I think was very moving."

Obama, Shriver said, told him "he did not intend to humiliate the population, didn't want to embarrass or give anybody any more reason for pain or any kind of suffering."

The question remains: Will Obama ever be able to safely discuss bowling?

During the campaign, Obama bowled a 37 in Altoona, Pa. (granted, over seven of 10 frames, but still ...). Many of the blue-collar Democrats he was trying to win over at the time scratched their heads, wondering how one would go about scoring that low (300 is a perfect score), if he had ever actually set foot in the ultimate everyman hangout before.

Past presidents have been defined by things they have said, done, or had happen to them -- fairly or unfairly. George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and never lived it down. Bill Clinton had junk food (as well as more glaring flaws). Gerald Ford's alleged clutziness made Chevy Chase's career as the First Stumbler on Saturday Night Live. Dwight Eisenhower golfed ... and golfed ... and golfed.

Jimmy Carter bemused environmentalists after claiming that he fended off a charging rabbit while canoeing on a family vacation. Soon after, the Defenders of Wildlife jokingly unveiled a "seven-point program to improve the government's sensitivity to wildlife and set the pace for enlightened, non-lethal policies on predators, including rabbits."

Obama's remark, however, was not funny, and administration officials Friday made that point again.

"I know that the president believes that the Special Olympics are a triumph of the human spirit, and I think he understands that they deserve a lot better than -- than the thoughtless joke that he made last night," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said during the White House briefing. "And he apologizes for that."

Now the president faces a challenge -- from Kolan McConiughey, a Special Olympics athlete from Ann Arbor, Mich., who bowls an average score of 266. McConiughey has bowled three perfect games and now wants to take on the president, according to the TMZ Web site.

The White House has yet to respond to the request.

By Web Politics Editor  |  March 20, 2009; 6:46 PM ET
Categories:  Barack Obama  
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As a former Special Olympian I found the comment funny! You idiots who think you are better than the handicapped and feel you have to defend is out of your own selfishness and need to find something to pin on the president. You are the losers!

Posted by: NGrunge | March 23, 2009 11:45 AM | Report abuse


I wish Obama would consider offering another apology -- this time in front of news cameras, along with some palliative remarks that would truly turn an unintentionally hurtful remark into what Tim Shriver spoke of as a "teachable moment."


An aside: Shiver looked and sounded so much like a young JFK when he made his televised response that the "teachable moment" may turn out to be his imminent entrance into national politics.

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 22, 2009 12:42 PM | Report abuse

MSM = mainstream media

Posted by: KayInMaine | March 22, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Sarah Palin is now jumping on President Obama about his comment about the Special Olympics, but here is what Sarah Palin has said when she found out she was going to have a special needs child:

“Not knowing in my own heart if I was going to be ready to embrace a child with special needs…I couldn’t talk about it.”

“I’ve never had problems with my other pregnancies, so I was shocked”

“It took a while to open up the book that the doctor gave me about children with Down syndrome, and a while to log on to the Web site and start reading facts about the situation.”

She also said that she couldn't tell her other children about it either. Does this sound like a woman who has always been a pro-Special-Olympics kind of person? Nope. She sounds like a typical right winger HYPOCRITE. The End.

Posted by: KayInMaine | March 22, 2009 8:54 AM | Report abuse

There is no way to put lipstick on this pig,
but, here goes.
Obama obviously has a realistic opinion of the abilities of mentally handicapped people.
So do I. If they were not lacking in ability they would not be called handicapped.
But I don’t see how he thought it would be funny.
These special people are among our most sacred political cows along with African Americans, gays, and Jews.
To even mention them without reverence is heresy.
There will be some serious butt kissing due from Obama. After all, he is a sacred cow himself, and the president.

Posted by: seemstome | March 22, 2009 2:26 AM | Report abuse

What should worry Obama's supporters is not the immediate effects of this blunder, but just what sort of gap in the man's personal development allowed him to think that referencing the Special Olympics in this regard was acceptable or humorous. Ridiculing the handicapped has been off limits in public discourse for a generation or more.

Posted by: RabelRabel | March 21, 2009 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I have to ask, forgive me if this is something I should know...but who or what is MSM ? I keep seeing this in different forums? Initially I thought it was MSN, the network, but apparently I am's not a typo after all.

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 21, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Dear Mr. President:

You STUPID, STUPID B_astard! I could see this coming a mile away. Ever since you were elected I have noticed a disturbing need in you to ALWAYS crack a joke, or two, or three. It is one thing to have a sense of humor. It is another altogether to be constantly cracking wise or worse always looking for the opportunity to make a joke. What were you the class clown in high school?

If you keep acting like your term in office is one long episode of "The Last Comic Standing" there won't be any Americans left standing to laugh at your lame-arse jokes.

Meanwhile, in my little corner of the good ol' US of A, let me tell you what I witnessed the night you opened your mouth and inserted your size 12's.

I stopped in to see an old friend. He hadn't come home yet but his wife was there and we talked a few minutes until he did.

As soon as he stepped through the door you could see he was upset and after he sat down and started to talk he began to fight back the tears. And this from a man who is as tough as nails, who was a squad commander in Vietnam, who has medals that would cover his barrel chest. And yet he shook and fought back the tears.

What had him upset? He's a supervisor at a medium-sized nursing home, and that day he received a notice that he had to cut his workers hours by 40%!!! He said when he told them they went white as sheets. This 'Nam veteran said he had not seen fear like that in people's faces since he left 'Nam!!!

Now, Mr President, tell the country which of the oh so funny jokes in your lame repertoire will wash away the fear of those people and the ever growing number of Americans like them?????

It might surprise the shyte out of you that you were given the POWER of the presidency to get things done, and if you are not up to the task I am sorry to have to say I hope you drop dead of a heart attack. Then maybe we'll be blessed with a less childish president and one who really gets it, that really understands the pain, suffering, and FEAR that grips ever growing numbers of Americans, and a president that understands that even a steady stream of truly funny jokes would ,at best, only momentarily allay their growing fears.

Posted by: jmcauli1 | March 21, 2009 12:31 AM | Report abuse

Vitaletti, I don't see this topic as cheesy...and I do see it as insulting...and embarassing that the President, the Leader, of our country would be so callous in his words and for that matter he had no business being on a late night comedy/talk show. What's next? Saturday night live..perhaps making a mockery of the AIG situation? Why not? It's only a joke, eh? One thing I have come to the conclusion on...Obama is only good when he is reading from a teleprompter. On his own...he is tongue tied, says insulting comments and comes across as a inexperienced. He is best to stick to the weekly teleprompter speeches from the Whitehouse.

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 21, 2009 12:27 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for your post, does mean a lot. I've always stressed that life would be so much better if all lived by ten simple matter what religion or non religious beliefs one has...and that is the ten commandments. Instead we have billions of laws on the books...when 10 simple ones would suffice if we all followed along...and that would solve the problems of racism, greed, distrust, etc. Have a good nights more tomorrow.

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 21, 2009 12:22 AM | Report abuse

I am aware as to the history of credit default swaps. Before being signed by Clinton, the deregulation of credit default swaps was passed unanimously by the Senate. Both parties are to blame, and Sean and Rush refuse to acknowledge this fact. We are in this position because of both Republicans and Democrats, not solely due to poor people who were too stupid to read their purchase contracts.

I also want to apologize to LavandaDolce if I was inarticulate. I have worked with children with special needs, and I recognize that they are persistently tormented and disrespected throughout their lives. It might be a matter of semantics, but I just hope for the day when no person is considered inferior. I don't see a point in deeming one person or group to be of more or less value than the rest of us.

Posted by: jimestw | March 21, 2009 12:05 AM | Report abuse

This article is one of the most grossly distorted pieces of reporting that I have ever read. Anyone reading it must see the Obama/Leno interview. In reality it is very different from what appears here. The Washington Post is going down a very dangerous road of Yellow Journalism, and in a cheesy way at that!

Posted by: vitaletti101 | March 20, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Jimestw, I guess nobody clued you in on Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac? You can thank the Clinton Administration for this one...the economic crisis that you are so quick to blame on Bush. Democrats Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) also the Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee — of all things — and President Obama (who is reported to be the 3rd largest recipient of Fannie Mae political contributions — said to be over $100K in less than 4 years) have also benefited greatly from these Democrats' personal slush funds. However, in the worst cut to We the People from the knife of corruption, the very people who created this problem will now be in charge of "correcting" it! Does this make any sense to anyone except those who have received and continue to receive funds from these institutions?

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 20, 2009 11:42 PM | Report abuse

MSM tried to make more out of it especially when they couldn't get the Chairman of the Special Olympics to make a big deal - he said it was a "teachable moment and the President had apologized." Too bad MSM no one to help you keep this negativity up.

Posted by: rlj1 | March 20, 2009 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Now I have to ask. Danw1...what is there to love? Pray tell.............

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 20, 2009 11:37 PM | Report abuse

What disgusting, boorish failures George Jones 1-4 must have been. Maybe we would listen to you if you didn't provide us with George W. Bush... twice. Our national debt is now doubled, genius. Thanks, now go away.

Posted by: jimestw | March 20, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Actually Jim...yes. They are more precious and unique. Do you want to know why? Because those, like my son who has autism, does not judge people on how much money they make or what kind of car they drive. He doesn't care what color skin you have...he doesn't care if you are republican or democratic...he doesn't care if you live in a tent or a 7 bedroom estate...all he cares about is a simple smile, and a friendly hello from opposed to the years of teasing and bullying he took from "normal people." If that's not precious and unique...I don't know what is.

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 20, 2009 11:32 PM | Report abuse

What a disgusting boorish snot we have elected to be our president.

Posted by: georgejones5 | March 20, 2009 11:29 PM | Report abuse

Some may have voted for Obama's CHANGE....not me, I did not want change. I wanted IMPROVEMENTS...not CHANGE. But CHANGE it is. Sorry, but I expect more professionalism out of my President than seeing him laughing it up on the Jay Leno show while simultaneously insulting those who participate in the Special Olympics while the country is in major crisis, and on the same day of the AIG hearings.... and he is flyin' off to LA while Michelle is home preparing the details for their "every Wednesday evening" cocktail parties. Obama should personally apologize to all those with special needs. He can start with my special needs son...who, by the way, can out bowl a 129 any day of the week.

Posted by: LavandaDolce | March 20, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Although I consider Obama to be a decent man, there is no defending his thoughtless comment. Almost as disgusting are the predictable, melodramatic condemnations. Enter Sarah Palin: "This was a degrading remark about our world's most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world." I understand that Palin is a parent to a child with special needs, but the point should be that those afflicted are in every way our equals. Is there a point (other than a political one) in declaring that they are more unique and precious than the rest of us?

Posted by: jimestw | March 20, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Can we please get this right, "journalists" of the Washington Post? Can you PLEASE PRETTY PLEASE WITH A CHERRY ON TOP *watch* the segment and actually report on what happened? There's context there. He wasn't saying he bowled like a special olympian. Why are you reporting this as if he did say it? You're regurgitating talking points, and it doesn't become you. But I guess this is what journalism has come to. Sad, really.


Posted by: Balt-o-Matt | March 20, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

If John McCain had said this, the MSM would have crucified him and forced him to make a public apology. Has Obama made a public apology? No...I'm not saying he should. I think it was an unwise but relatively harmless comment and I'm sure it came off as funny in the moment. I do think that people need to lighten up. All I want to point out is that there is a double standard for democrats and republicans in the MSM. Obama is getting a pass whereas any Republican would have been burned at the stake with that comment.

Posted by: jsypal | March 20, 2009 10:15 PM | Report abuse

we wanted and needed change - but got the same, even worse.

Posted by: morena77 | March 20, 2009 7:42 PM
It's like George Bush on steroids...

Posted by: leeh11281 | March 20, 2009 10:12 PM | Report abuse

And to those who comment on time out of Washington. Hello? Airforce One is a flying Oval Office. He's not going on vacation everytime he leaves, he's talking to his constituents, the American people. Have you never had to travel for your job? Did they not pay you when they sent you to the systems administration conference in Dayton, Ohio? Or did they accuse you of going on vacation and dock your vacation pay? Just wondering...

Posted by: defjoy | March 20, 2009 9:34 PM
To use Obama's own words, in the middle of a crisis, a financial crisis that is worse than the Great Depression, how do you justify spending 2 million+ flying to California to appear on Jay Leno.

If you think that figure may be high, figure in the Police detail in DC, Secret Service details in DC and CA, Police overtime in CA, $68000 an hour in costs to fly Air Force One plus costs to fly Marine One and his vehicles out to the right coast.

Posted by: leeh11281 | March 20, 2009 10:10 PM | Report abuse

Obama will end up being the greatest president in US History.

Posted by: blakesouthwood | March 20, 2009 9:35 PM
He is the most reckless by far...(latest tally 9.2 trillion spent in 60 days). He is the worst lying President (even worse the Bill C). His policies are going to bankrupt my kids, my neighbors kids, and your kids. So, he is by far already the worst President on record.

Posted by: leeh11281 | March 20, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Obama will end up being the greatest president in US History.

Posted by: blakesouthwood | March 20, 2009 9:35 PM | Report abuse

And to those who comment on time out of Washington. Hello? Airforce One is a flying Oval Office. He's not going on vacation everytime he leaves, he's talking to his constituents, the American people. Have you never had to travel for your job? Did they not pay you when they sent you to the systems administration conference in Dayton, Ohio? Or did they accuse you of going on vacation and dock your vacation pay? Just wondering...

Posted by: defjoy | March 20, 2009 9:34 PM | Report abuse

I love the guy, but he blew it on this one. Have a day at the White House with lots of Special Olympics athletes. Discuss issues of importance to people with disabilities and their families. That's all he can do, besides avoiding anything to do with bowling from now on.

Posted by: danw1 | March 20, 2009 9:20 PM | Report abuse

"The question remains: Will Obama ever be able to safely discuss bowling?"

Seriously? That's the question that remains? Well let's get our people on it and FIX THIS THING!! If we can get Obama's bowling self-critique out of the way, the economic crisis should be a piece of cake.

Posted by: defjoy | March 20, 2009 9:19 PM | Report abuse

What nonsense. A slip of the tongue which he hastened to apologize for. Compared to his predecessor who made a big show of drawing a blank on trying to think of a single mistake he'd made while in office.

You guys must be really desperate.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | March 20, 2009 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I saw the show. The line was nothing but a throw-away line which seemed to be missed by Jay and the audience. In fact, several people near me never heard the line.

I felt that Obama was indicating something about his bowling skills, not to say anything negative about special-needs people in our society.

Many who launch a tirade about this statement should check their own relationship with special needs people. Sarah Palin is now rejecting stimulus funds for special needs kids just as she is expressing her outrage for Obama's words.

Posted by: EarlC | March 20, 2009 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh, get over it. He made a bad joke, so what. There is no constitutional right to never having your feelings hurt.

Posted by: allknowingguy | March 20, 2009 8:53 PM | Report abuse

Boy oughta be beyotch-slapped.

Oh gee, I'm really so sorry. You know I'd never beat anyone. I have a long track record of being a nice guy and . . .

Posted by: NEWSOUTH1 | March 20, 2009 8:39 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me or do others find it funny that all of sudden the right wing is standing up of for political correctness?


Obama's comment must have hit a nerve.


Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 20, 2009 8:03 PM | Report abuse

I laughed when I heard his comment yet I knew that it was politically incorrect. When trying to be funny, it is possible to offend people. Unless you have a comedy writer and are going off a script, this stuff will happen. I am glad he apologized, and now let's move on.

This freakin world is too serious.

Posted by: YUTZ | March 20, 2009 7:51 PM | Report abuse

Bush 43 did have the most vacation days but at Obama's current rate, he's runnin at a rate of 2.5 times as many days as Bush did. Obama's taken off 29 days so far - Jimmy Carter took of 80 in 4 years.

What has Obama even done in his first 2 months? Looks like nothing to me except continue to campaign. Talk about bonuses for CEO's - at least they work.

Posted by: debmries | March 20, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

we wanted and needed change - but got the same, even worse.

Posted by: morena77 | March 20, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Obama was actually talking about the special needs minorities in this country that voted for him, and his legacy will be the worst President in modern history.

Posted by: tdl62 | March 20, 2009 7:42 PM | Report abuse

The Right Wing isn't standing up for political correctness.

We are just pointing out the obvious hypocrisy of the MSM. If Sarah Palin said this they would be filled with Righteous Indignation. The Hypocrisy of the LEFT is so thick. But, the Obama Zombies continue plodding on. Obama is like David Koresh to many of these loons on the left. They support him no matter what and will never criticize him. The LEFT really is filled with a bunch of Zombies. At least as a Republican I can admit both George Bush' and Reagan sucked. They weren't for the Middle Class or Working Class. But, the LEFT can't even criticize their own for trivial things. Too bad.

Posted by: Tom22 | March 20, 2009 7:41 PM | Report abuse

The President handicaps himself with comments such as this. He has little to spare & needs to strike out. Get himself out of a ditch, so to speak. Maybe he needs a better run-up next time to avoid slipping at the line. If he continues to bowl in this way he will be a one out of ten. Far from a perfect score, he needs a more forgiving audience!

Posted by: homesellaustralia | March 20, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Is it just me or do others find it funny that all of sudden the right wing is standing up of for political correctness?

Posted by: Ironcomments | March 20, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Is it also funny how the right wing is now spouting how the President needs to be in Washington and focusing on one thing? Was it not Bush who took the most vacations then any other President and decided to start a second war in Iraq? Irony can be so obvious sometimes.

Posted by: Ironcomments | March 20, 2009 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh Please-
If George Bush didn't get upset why are any normal folks getting their shorts in a wad?

Posted by: kase | March 20, 2009 7:06 PM | Report abuse

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