Obama's Gutter Ball Threatens to Haunt Him

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 2009

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.


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 developmentally 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" yesterday 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?

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