R-Word Enters 2020 Presidential Race
A Democratic candidate for president is apologizing for laughing and praising a man who described President Donald Trump’s actions as “mentally retarded.”
U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who is currently seeking the Democratic nomination, says she did not hear the words used and would have reacted differently if she had.
During an exchange Friday at a campaign event in New Hampshire, a man said to Harris, “what are you going to do in the next one year to diminish the mentally retarded action of this guy?”
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Video of the exchange shows Harris laughing and responding “well said, well said.”
A day later, however, Harris sought to walk back her reply.
“When my staff played the video from my town hall yesterday, it was upsetting,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “I didn’t hear the words the man used in that moment, but if I had I would’ve stopped and corrected him. I’m sorry. That word and others like it aren’t acceptable. Ever.”
Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, said the incident offers a “teachable moment.”
“The r-word is offensive and unacceptable — yet far too often, it’s used in our culture today,” Berns said. “Whether the exchange happens with a presidential candidate, or a celebrity, or at a school playground, we have to be vigilant in our efforts to inform the public about how and why it’s so hurtful.”
Shawn Ferguson, vice president of government relations at Special Olympics, said that Harris has been “nothing but respectful” for the organization and people with intellectual disabilities during her time as a senator and “obviously we take her at her word.” However, he said the exchange comes at a time when Special Olympics — which has long asked people to sign a pledge to eliminate use of the r-word — has seen an uptick in notable figures, particularly comedians, using such terminology.
“Here we are in 2019. I think we’ve gone past the time where use of the r-word is appropriate, not that it was ever appropriate,” Ferguson said. “It’s hurtful.”
The incident comes just weeks after Harris proposed a broad plan to address the needs of Americans with disabilities. The agenda includes calls for fully funding the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and phasing out subminimum wage, among other changes.