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Mike McFeely, Published March 22 2009

McFeely: Obama has 8th grade moment

To illustrate the depth of Barack Obama’s gutter ball on Jay Leno’s television show the other day, one needs only to know that the president succeeded in one sentence where the Republican Party failed miserably during an entire campaign.

He made Sarah Palin look like an intellectual.

Obama’s lame attempt at self-deprecation – he said his bowling skills are “like Special Olympics or something” – brought the expected and deserved beatings from every angle, predictably harsher from the right and apologetic from the left.

The former included a statement from Alaska governor Palin, defeated vice presidential candidate and mother of a young son with Down syndrome. Palin’s sharp barb was heartfelt and credible, two adjectives not often used during her rocky ride with John McCain.

So the next time a pundit says Obama is incapable of solving an insolvable problem, there is evidence to the contrary. This is not the ammunition his followers had in mind.

The question the country seems to be asking in the wake of the president’s foot-in-mouth moment – aside from, “What’s the president of the United States doing on Leno?” – is this: How could he say something so stupid?

That misses the point. Every president says something stupid during his tenure – just look at the last guy for a bottomless pit of examples. The leader of the free world has every publicly uttered word recorded and analyzed to the point of foolishness. There are going to be slip-ups.

The real question is how a

47-year-old, supremely educated person could think at the same intellectual level as an eighth-grader. Or two ignorant drunks bellied up to a bar. Or a nightclub comic.

Because isn’t that really the territory from which Special Olympics comments usually spawn? A Special Olympics reference is but a softer version of the R-word, a favored insult in many junior high schools across the country.

The idea that somebody with the formal education and life experiences of a president would think in such a brazenly immature way is jolting. What’s next? Jokes about pee-pee? Comments about underwear and bras? Perhaps a couple of shot-to-the-groin references?

Obama backpedaled even before his comment became public, calling the chairman of the Special Olympics to apologize. The organization has characterized this as a “teachable moment” for the entire country.

Indeed, it is. We can learn that words have impact when it comes to describing people with intellectual disabilities. That’s a positive.

We’ve also been taught that even the most powerful people in the world can think like eighth-graders on a playground. That’s disappointing.

Obama told the audience at an alleged town-hall meeting during his California swing that: “I am the president of the United States of America.” Parts of his intellectual maturity, apparently, haven’t graduated beyond student council representative.

Forum columnist Mike McFeely can be heard from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com. McFeely’s blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/mcfeely