Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Obama talks to Leno about AIG bonuses, the economy. Makes a gaffe. Dog coming next month. Transcript


UPDATED 12:27 A.M eastern Friday

WASHINGTON--President Obama told Jay Leno he will use the White House tennis court to play hoops and will finally get a promised dog for his daughters next month as he talked about the AIG bonuses and the economy on the late night show.

Obama booked the appearence as part of a California campaign-style swing designed to sell his fiscal 2010 proposed budget and his $787 billion economic recovery plan. But the trip was overshadowed by the ongoing uproar over $165 milliion in bonuses paid to hedge fund honchos at the bailed out AIG.

The AIG furor of course provided grist for the comic and the president on the show, taped Thursday afternoon in Burbank. The tone, while serious, was light. A wisecrack about the Special Olympics (overseen by the Ethel Kennedy clan) was off mark and Obama may regret the mention about the disabled while discussing his bowling skills.

White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton, talking to reporters on Air Force One while en route back to Washington after the Leno taping said, "The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

Leno was thrilled the president was on his show

Said Leno, "Well, you know, it's interesting, when you said -- it's, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I've asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court -- -- and you go, Your Honor, I'm going to give you half the money back. And they seem stunned that we're not jumping at this wonderful offer."

Shot back Obama, "Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood.'


Office of the President

March 19, 2009



Burbank, California

4:22 P.M. PDT

Q The 44th President of the United States, please welcome President Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. (Applause.)

Q Good to see you.

THE PRESIDENT: It is good to see you and -- (applause.) Thank you. Let me just say, I think Kevin looks good in a suit. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: He looks a little like Secret Service. (Laughter.)

Q He does, doesn't he? Yes. And you're the only guy who can get him to wear it. (Laughter.)

Now, you know, it's funny, because the last time you were here, you walked in, you had your jacket on your finger and you had the two guys with you.


Q And that was it. Big change?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I was mentioning earlier, we landed yesterday and then -- this is an example of life in the bubble. We landed at the fairground down in Costa Mesa. And I see the fairground where I think we're having this town hall and I said, well, why don't we walk over there? Secret Service says, no, sir, it's 750 yards. (Laughter.)

So I was trying to calculate -- well, that's like a five-minute walk? "Yes, sir. Sorry." (Laughter.)

Now, they let me walk on the way back. But, you know, the doctor is behind me with the defibrillator. (Laughter.)

Q Wow.

THE PRESIDENT: Michelle jokes about how our motorcade -- you know, we've got the ambulance and then the caboose and then the dog sled. (Laughter.) The submarine. (Laughter.) There's a whole bunch of stuff going on.

Q Now it's only, what, 59 days now, right?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, 59 days.

Q And so much scrutiny. Is it fair to judge so quickly? I mean --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, we are going through a difficult time. I welcome the challenge. You know, I ran for President because I thought we needed big changes. I do think in Washington it's a little bit like "American Idol," except everybody is Simon Cowell. (Laughter.)

Q Wow. Wow. That's rough. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Everybody's got an opinion. But that's part of what makes for a democracy. You know, it's contentious and people are hitting back.

I do think, though, that the American people are all in a place where they understand it took us a while to get into this mess, it's going to take a while for us to get out of it. And if they have confidence that I'm making steps to deal with issues like health care and energy and education, that matter deeply to their daily lives, then I think they're going to give us some time. (Applause.)

Q Let me ask you about this. I know you are angry -- because, you know, doing what I do, you kind of study body language a little bit. And you looked very angry about these bonuses. Actually, stunned.

THE PRESIDENT: Stunned. "Stunned" is the word.

Q Tell people what happened. I know people have been over it, just --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, here's what happened. You've got a company, AIG, which used to be just a regular, old insurance company. Then they insured a whole bunch of stuff and they were very profitable and it was a good, solid company.

Then they decided -- some smart person decided, let's put a hedge fund on top of the insurance company and let's sell these derivative products to banks all around the world -- which are basically guarantees or insurance policies on all these sub-prime mortgages.

And this smart person said, you know, none of these things are going to go bust; this sub-prime thing, it's a great deal, you can make a lot of profit. So they sold a whole bunch of them -- billions and billions of dollars. And what happened is, is that when people started going bust on sub-prime mortgages you had $30 worth of debt on every dollar worth of mortgage -- and the whole house of cards just started falling down.

So the problem with AIG was that it owed so much and was tangled up with so many banks and institutions that if you had allowed it to just liquidate, to go into bankruptcy, it could have brought the whole financial system down. So it was the right thing to do to intervene in AIG.

Now, the question is, who in their right mind, when your company is going bust, decides we're going to be paying a whole bunch of bonuses to people? And that, I think, speaks to a broader culture that existed on Wall Street, where I think people just had this general attitude of entitlement, where, we must be the best and the brightest, we deserve $10 million or $50 million or $100 million dollar payouts --

Q Right.

THE PRESIDENT: And, you know, the immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough, and people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be okay. (Applause.)

Q Well, you know, it's interesting, when you said -- it's, like, I had to laugh the other day when the CEO of AIG said, okay, I've asked them to give half the bonuses back. Now, if you rob a bank and you go into court -- (laughter) -- and you go, Your Honor, I'm going to give you half the money back. (Laughter.) And they seem stunned that we're not jumping at this wonderful offer.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, the only place I think that might work is in Hollywood. (Laughter.)

Q Let me ask you this. Now, I heard them say, well, one of the problems is it's contractual and if we don't pay these bonuses, well, they can sue us. All the time people say, so sue me.

THE PRESIDENT: So sue me, right.

Q I mean, the federal government is in debt a trillion dollars. We're broke -- sue us. Sue me. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: In fairness, I think that part of the calculation they were making was the way the contracts were written said, if you don't pay us immediately, then we can claim three times as much as we were owed under the bonuses. And so they were making a legal calculation, and their legal judgment was not necessarily wrong.

But there's a moral and an ethical aspect to this, as well. And I think that's what has gotten everybody so fired up. The main thing -- we're going to do everything we can to see if we can get these bonuses back. But I think the most important thing that we can do is make sure that we put in a bunch of financial regulatory mechanisms to prevent companies like an AIG holding the rest of us hostage. Because that's -- that's the real problem.

The problem is not just what's happened over the last six months. The problem is what was happening for years, where people were able to take huge, excessive risks with other people's money, putting the entire financial system at risk -- and there were no checks, there were no balances, there was nobody overseeing the process.

And so what we're going to be moving very aggressively on -- even as we try to fix the current mess -- is make sure that before somebody makes a bad bet you say, hold on, you can't do that.

Q Well, here's something that kind of scared me. Today they passed this thing that says we're going to tax 90 percent of these bonuses. And the part that scares me is, I mean, you're a good guy -- if the government decides they don't like a guy, all of a sudden, hey, we're going to tax you and then, boom, and it passes. I mean, that seems a little scary as a taxpayer, they can just decide -- you want to take a break and answer that when we come back? Okay, hold that answer.

THE PRESIDENT: I will. I've got a good answer, too. (Applause.)

* * * * *

Q Welcome back. We are talking with President Barack Obama.

Before the break I mentioned that they had just passed this new bill which will tax them 90 percent -- and I said it was frightening to me as an American that Congress, whoever, could decide, I don't like that group, let's pass a law and tax them at 90 percent.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I understand Congress' frustrations, and they're responding to, I think, everybody's anger. But I think that the best way to handle this is to make sure that you've closed the door before the horse gets out of the barn. And what happened here was the money has already gone out and people are scrambling to try to find ways to get back at them.

The change I'd like to see in terms of tax policy is that we have a system, going back to where we were back in the 1990s, where you and I who are doing pretty well pay a little bit more to pay for health care, to pay for energy, to make sure that kids can go to college who aren't as fortunate as our -- as my kids might be. Those are the kinds of measured steps that we can take. But the important thing over the next several months is making sure that we don't lurch from thing to thing, but we try to make steady progress, build a foundation for long-term economic growth. That's what I think the American people expect. (Applause.)

Q I just read today about Merrill Lynch. They handed out $3.6 billion -- it's not even million anymore, it's billions in bonuses. I know it would make me feel good -- shouldn't somebody go to jail? (Laughter and applause.) I say that because I watch those people in New York, even people who had lost everything -- when Bernard Madoff went to jail, at least they felt they got something.

THE PRESIDENT: Right. They got some satisfaction. Here's the dirty little secret, though. Most of the stuff that got us into trouble was perfectly legal. And that is a sign of how much we've got to change our laws -- right? We were talking earlier about credit cards, and it's legal to charge somebody 30 percent on their credit card, and charge fees and so forth that people don't always know what they're getting into. So the answer is to deal with those laws in a way that gives the average consumer a break.

When you buy a toaster, if it explodes in your face there's a law that says your toasters need to be safe. But when you get a credit card, or you get a mortgage, there's no law on the books that says if that explodes in your face financially, somehow you're going to be protected.

So this is -- the need for getting back to some common sense regulations -- there's nothing wrong with innovation in the financial markets. We want people to be successful; we want people to be able to make a profit. Banks are critical to our economy and we want credit to flow again. But we just want to make sure that there's enough regulatory common sense in place that ordinary Americans aren't taken advantage of, and taxpayers, after the fact, aren't taken advantage of. (Applause.)

Q Yes -- because when I was a kid, we would -- banks or credit cards would lend you money so you would pay it back. Now they lend you money so you can't pay it back. (Laughter.) It's like we were talking before, I mentioned we all saw A Wonderful Life -- Mr. Potter, the meanest man -- remember he owned the whole town? You know what he charged on a mortgage? Two percent. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: He's like Mother Teresa now. (Laughter.)

Q Like Mother Teresa now. (Laughter.) He makes VISA look like ohhhh --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, and part of what happened over the last 15, 20 years is that so much money was made in finance that about 40 percent, I think, of our overall growth, our overall economic growth was in the financial sector. Well, now what we're finding out is a lot of that growth wasn't real. It was paper money, paper profits on the books, but it could be easily wiped out.

And what we need is steady growth; we need young people, instead of -- a smart kid coming out of school, instead of wanting to be an investment banker, we need them to decide they want to be an engineer, they want to be a scientist, they want to be a doctor or a teacher. And if we're rewarding those kinds of things that actually contribute to making things and making people's lives better, that's going to put our economy on solid footing. We won't have this kind of bubble-and-bust economy that we've gotten so caught up in for the last several years.

Q Now, Treasury Secretary Geithner, he seems to be taking a little bit of heat here. How is he holding up with this? He seems like a smart guy --

THE PRESIDENT: He is a smart guy and he's a calm and steady guy. I don't think people fully appreciate the plate that was handed him. This guy has not just a banking crisis; he's got the worst recession since the Great Depression, he's got an auto industry on -- that has been on the verge of collapse. We've got to figure out how to coordinate with other countries internationally. He's got to deal with me; he's got to deal with Congress. And he's doing it with grace and good humor. And he understands that he's on the hot seat, but I actually think that he is taking the right steps, and we're going to have our economy back on the move.

Q Now, see, I love that it's all his problem. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no --

Q -- I mean, when he came in you probably said, hey, this is not a problem. Now, it's, hey, you got this, you got that, hey, good luck. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, but this is the point that I made, I think two days ago, when somebody asked, well, do you have confidence in Tim Geithner. I said, look, I'm the President, so ultimately all this stuff is my responsibility. If I'm not giving him the tools that he needs to make sure that we're moving things forward, then people need to look at me.

On the AIG thing, all these contracts were written well before I took office, but ultimately I'm now the guy who's responsible to fix it. And one of the things that I'm trying to break is a pattern in Washington where everybody is always looking for somebody else to blame. And I think Geithner is doing an outstanding job. I think that we have a big mess on our hands. It's not going to be solved immediately, but it is going to get solved. And the key thing is for everybody just to stay focused on doing the job instead of trying to figure out who you can pass blame on to.

Q Well, when will the money -- this money was given out to the banks. I would have thought by this time it would have sort of trickled down to Main Street, to people wanting to get loans -- I mean, it all went out there months and months ago. Where is it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, what's happening is a lot of these banks are keeping it in the bank because their balance sheets had gotten so bad that they decided, you know what, for us to stay solvent we need to maintain certain capital ratios; we've got to have a certain amount of capital in the bank -- and they haven't started lending it yet. And that's why what we've got to do -- right now what we're doing is essentially doing a diagnostic test -- trying to use some auto language here so you -- (laughter) -- we're doing a diagnostic on each of the banks, figuring out what are their capital levels? Can they sustain lending? And then I think we're going to separate out -- those banks that are in good shape, we're going to say to them, all right, you're on your own; go start lending again. Those banks that still have problems, we'll do a little more intervention to try to clean some of those toxic assets off their books.

But I actually have confidence that we'll get that done. In the meantime, we're taking a lot of steps to, for example, opening up -- open up separate credit lines outside of banks for small businesses so that they can get credit -- because there are a lot of small businesses out here who are just barely hanging on. Their credit lines are starting to be cut. We're trying to set up a securitized market for student loans and auto loans outside of the banking system. So there are other ways of getting credit flowing again.

But that's why we've got to solve the banking problem and we've got to solve issues like health care, energy, and education that will put us on a pathway for long-term economic growth.

Q We're going to take a break. When we come back I want to ask you what we can do -- (applause) -- all right, we'll take a break. We'll be right back.

* * * * *

Q Welcome back. Talking with President Barack Obama. So I was going to ask you before we went to the break. So you have -- obviously we have a lot of people with a few dollars -- couple of hundred, couple of thousand -- but there's millions of them. Okay, obviously that's a tremendous financial forest. What should they do? Put their money in the bank? Should they be spending money? Should they hide it under their mattress?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, first of all, everybody should have complete confidence in the banks. They're deposits are protected. They shouldn't be putting it in their mattresses. I will leave it up to others to provide individual, personal financial advice.

But I will say this, that if you're working right now, obviously you've got to be prudent and you've got to recognize that the economy has been in a tough way. But, you know, we've still got kids who are going to need a coat for winter or a computer for school. You know, that young family is still going to at some point need to buy a house. And right now cars, for example, we know that typically you need about 14 million cars for this population -- and right now only 9 million are being sold every year. So at some point those inventories are going to run down and people are going to start buying cars again.

So, you know, what people should not do is forget that what has built America has always been a faith and a confidence in the future. And our future is bright if we take some smart steps right now. And that's what we're working on in Washington. And I think if everybody stays focused on getting through these tough times, the future is going to be very bright for all of us.

Q Now, you mentioned cars a minute ago. You went to the electric car, you went to look at some batteries today.

THE PRESIDENT: I did. It's spectacular what is being down now with plug-in hybrids, where not only are you getting the hybrid technology, but now you can plug it in at home in your garage. And potentially we could see cars getting 150 miles to a gallon of gas.

And when you get home you could potentially sell the energy in your car back into the grid, back to your utility and get money.

So we're going to be investing billions of dollars in research and development around these technologies. I know that you were mentioning you've got a hydrogen car --

Q I've got the GM hydrogen car. That's a whole new --

THE PRESIDENT: That's a whole new level of technology. That's what's going to create the auto industry of the future. That's where we're going to win back manufacturing. But right now we're behind. These batteries are being made in Japan -- just like wind power is being made in Europe. We need to bring that here, and that's part of what my budget and part of what our Recovery Act is all about.

Q Let me ask you some personal things. Now, how cool is it to fly in Air Force One? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Now, let me tell you, I personally think it's pretty cool. Especially because they give you, you know, the jacket with the seal on it. (Laughter.)

Q Oh, yeah. See, I still get the little wings when I fly.

THE PRESIDENT: So you have the jacket. I will tell you, though, Malia and Sasha, my daughters, they're just not as impressed. The first time we went on Marine One -- right, you've got the Marines in front and they're saluting you. And we go up and we're passing the Washington Monument, circling around on the way to Camp David -- and Sasha looks over and she says, "Are those Starbursts?" (Laughter.) There's, like, the candy in the little canister. (Laughter.) That's -- "Can we have some?" (Laughter.)

So they're splitting up the Starbursts and we're flying over the Lincoln Memorial. So they got a whole 'nother level of cool. (Laughter.)

Q Now, are they going to put a basketball -- I imagine the bowling alley has been just burned and closed down.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. I have been practicing all -- (laughter.)

Q Really? Really?

THE PRESIDENT: I bowled a 129. (Laughter and applause.)

Q No, that's very good. Yes. That's very good, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: It's like -- it was like Special Olympics, or something. (Laughter.)

Q No, that's very good.

THE PRESIDENT: No, listen, I'm making progress on the bowling, yes.

Q And how about, are you going to put in a basketball court?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes. Yes. Well, we have a basketball court already at Camp David. We just had a little rim that was inadequate -- (laughter) -- at the White House. But there are tennis courts, so we're going to just get those -- you know, those rims that you can roll in and out. And then we'll just put them on either --

Q Let me ask you, when people -- Mr. President, would you like to play? Yes, I would. Do they throw the game? Come on. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I don't see why they would throw the game -- except for all those Secret Service guys with guns around. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, exactly.

THE PRESIDENT: I will say that I don't think I get the hard fouls that I used to. Usually I don't --

Q Yes, Reggie goes, ohhh, I missed, ohhh. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Reggie doesn't do that. This is Reggie Love, my assistant. He played for Duke, very competitive guy. He doesn't let me win because, as he pointed out, if you lose to Obama you never hear the end of it. (Laughter.)

Q See, there you go. Now, have you picked a final four?


Q Okay. How about your final one, who do you got?

THE PRESIDENT: I got North Carolina Tar Heels. (Applause.)

Q North Carolina.

THE PRESIDENT: I think I got -- I got a hard time from Reggie, because he played at Duke, and you know, Coach K, being competitive, I think was a little -- you know, pushed back a little bit today. And I understand that. That's what you want. You want everybody to be competitive. I think these are all great teams.

Q Like, do you look at the whole picture when you do that? For example, isn't that a swing state? (Laughter and applause.) I'm just saying, are you looking at the whole picture when you pick?

THE PRESIDENT: I mean, the fact that teams from North Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, all seem to do well in my bracket -- (laughter) -- I think is a complete coincidence. Absolutely.

Q All right, one last question. Now, when is the dog coming? I keep hearing about the dog. It seems to me -- when was the dog supposed to be there by? I thought it was, like, as soon as --

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, this is Washington -- (laughter) -- that was a campaign promise. (Laughter.)

Q Oh, wow. Wow. Man. (Laughter and applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: I'm teasing. The dog will be there shortly. (Laughter.)

Q How soon?

THE PRESIDENT: We have actually sort of been laying the groundwork here. We've got a trip, I've got to go to the NATO summit. When we get back, dog will be in place.

Q Wow. And it's, what, a Portuguese water head? (Laughter.) What is it, what kind of dog is it?

THE PRESIDENT: It's not that. (Laughter.)

Q It's not that.

THE PRESIDENT: It's not a "water head." (Laughter.)

Q Whatever they are, I don't know what they are.

THE PRESIDENT: That sounds like a scary dog. (Laughter.) Sort of dripping around the house. (Laughter.)

Q I don't know what it is.

THE PRESIDENT: No, no. We're going to get a dog that is -- that I think the girls will have a great time -- I think I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. You know, they say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. (Laughter.)

Q Exactly. Mr. President, I must say, this has been one of the best nights of my life. Thank you very much, sir.

The President of the United States. (Applause.)

END 4:55 P.M. PDT


How savagely disrespectful to all who particpate in the Special Olympics, with his throw away comment he's obvioulsy comfortable in using, to describe his bowling skills.

I dont like the way the saying just rolled off his tongue in an automatic kind of response---indicative of, he's a regular user of it.

I would bet even money he wont ever use that phrase again. Now I'm wondering how many other "phrases" he has in there that he shouldnt be using. Its bad enough when goofs around us in everyday life use such sayings, but when a man tasked at the Leader of the Greatest Country on Earth uses it---its much worse.

No better way to get sympathy for a cause, or funding for special projects, than to signal a victim and wage a controversy.

Slip or no slip- the net result will be non-stop analysis by the media- outrage by special interest groups - and sympathy for the cause from the public... which only brings stronger support for his disability agenda.

This is a deliberate President- steps ahead of the critics and most of the public, and I applaud him.

Waiting for all the conservatives to play "dogpile on the rabbit" regarding the Special Olympics comment.

Great interview, covered some great a brother of a special needs person (RIP Annette)...I wasn't offended by the comment. I'm sure he'll apologize/clarify. Won't stop Ann Coulter's street team from making a big to do about it, though.


You know what? I have a disabled daughter and neither of us took any offense to that comment. I am so tired of people LOOKING for reasons to be offended. Whatever happened to laughter? Why is everything always so me-centric? My mother used to call me "Grace" because I was always tripping over my own feet. Should everyone named Grace be offended? Get a grip people, not every comparison is slander or libel.

His policies are like the Special Olympics... the standards are so low that any accomplishment seems amazing.

He can't speak without the prescripted teleprompter.

I didn't vote for Obama, but I really feel his remark relative to the Special Olympics is being blown way out of proportion - and I have a family member who is Downs Syndrome - this country is becoming a bunch whinners - I was not offended by the remark - I think people just need to chill and let this man do his job - he wasn't putting down Special Olympians, he was merely comparing his bowling skills to that of a Special Olympian - so those who are outraged, does that mean being called a Special Olympian is a derrogatory remark? I think NOT. Get a grip America - it's the first President we've had for the people - quit being so cynnical.

It's not a big deal. He messed up while trying to explain why he's not a great bowler. He's learning on the job and just about everything else he's done so far has been a tremendous improvement and correction for the people of this country. The previous comments show how overly sensitive, with a reaction totally blown out of proportion from people who didn't want him to have the job anyway.
He hasn't criminally killed thousands of innocent people and destroyed the economy as the previous president. So cut him some slack after 58 days on the job. He's learning and will aplogize today.

My advice/comment is the same as all of us
who have an IQ above 3 and a reasonably
intact ego: GET OVER IT.

Mr. President, how can you go on national television in the face of a global and national economic recession and disparage the special olympics just to make levity in the time of a national disaster? I was your fan, but for you to make insensitive comments about the special olympics makes me feel that you are a phony who makes many promises and cannot deliver even the basic essentials of what you have promised. It is despicable for you to disparage disabled people as you are the President and you should be their advocate standing up for their benefits and beliefs. You are the President and what you say is heard and interpreted and you should be more careful before you open your big black pie trap of a mouth. Certaily you have lived a life of privilege, but you should not make fun of those folks who are less fortunate than you by virtue of being possessed with one of a variety of disabilities through no fault of their own. Perhaps you have, in a moment of livety revealed your true inner self as a biased prejudiced and bigoted President which you should be ashamed of. Don't use the plight of those of us who have handicaps/special olympics candidates to make yourself seem to be likeable. Handicapped people need more advocates, not Presidents who use them as tools to try to make themselves amiable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

To Billy Bouy,
I really think you are being oversensitive to the President's statement. President Obama has to be one of the most inclusive Presidents (if not the most inclusive) this nation has ever had.
I feel that all he was trying to say that his bowling skills were not that of a professional bowler and for lack of a better term, he happened to use Special Olympics as an example. Was it the best example, probably not. But I don't think President Obama was in the least bit being mean-spirited against those who participate in the Special Olympic games.

Shame on you to use the less fortunate disabled folks just to try to make yourself seem to be cool. You are the President and what you say is heard and for many it is revered. Choose your words carefully as what you say is important. To make a comment that disparages disabled people shows that you indeed insensitive to the needs and wants of disabled people. Shame on you Mr Obama, perhaps if you had a disabled child, you would not make comments of such magnitude. Please, in the future speak about people who are able to defend themselves. Disables folks need advocates and it definitely appears that our dear president is not an advocate of disable people. And that is a tragic shame, wish we knew ya before we voted for ya!

This is what happens when you don't have your teleprompter in front of you. You make foolish comments...

It's a shame the Prez can't poke fun at himself. Those Special Olympics people take themselves way too seriously.

It is very dangerous for him to get away from the teleprompter.

This guy is the most incompetent president in American history. He has no class and talks like a street thug. We will have 4 years of recession/depression because this guy is an idiot and too stupid to know how to fix anything.

Arrogant, elitist and unqualified

WOW! The economy has tanked! and this is the best you can do? Who gives a rats (A) about the interview with a clown! Obama was having fun! Talk about how long you think your job will last! or can you pay the mortgage this month. Apples and oranges, as usual. 50 days in office, give the man a break! Jesus christ!

I think everybody needs to get a life and sense of humor and quit dissecting every single word the presidebt or any celebrity personality makes. Enough of this crap already! How quickly people judge others, as if THEY are perfect. Ridiculous! Obama is a good man. Who hasn't said something they wish they could rephrase on occasion? If ANYONE had cameras and press following them around 24/7 they would at some point be put in an unflattering light including the person who wrote this inflamatory article. Let it go people.

Anything President Obama says will be scrutinized and picked over like a crime scene, especially by his opponents. I am sure President Obama did not mean it in a disparaging way to offend. Maybe we should just find a new word for "handicap" as in bowling and golf. As I read into, it goes to show that with practice you can overcome anything you do in life, not just the Special Olympics. I guess he offended 63 college teams as well by picking UNC to win it all? Let's move on to the bigger fish like AIG and the economy.

This is one of the risks President Obama takes when he goes on an entertainment show. I am sure President Obama, once those words came out of his mouth, wished he hadn't been so flippant about. The White House immediately tried doing damage control. However,those words will continue to haunt him. Those aren't just words Mr. President, they are hurtful words.

I work with special needs children and everyday they accomplish something is a source of pride and accomplishment for them and their families. Their joys and hard work shouldn't be tarnished with thoughtless jokes by the President of the United States.

I only hope President Obama learns from this and spends some time with special needs children, parents, and teachers. Maybe if President Obama spends some time with them, he might have a better understanding of the obstacles each day brings to these children. He would even have a better sense of appreciation of their accomplishments.

I did not vote for Obama, I would not vote for Obama.... BUT... I don't think there was any intent at disrespect towards the wonderful Special Olympics program. I believe his humor was meant to show that he bowling ability has training needs far beyond those of most people. Just as many participants in the Special Olympics have more specific needs to learn certain things. Yes, he should have chosen his words better and it was a dumb thing to say but I don't think there was any disrespect intended.

There was nothing wrong with President Obama's reference to his bowling scores as being like something from "Special Olympics". He was poking fun at himself and his own abilities, that's all. People with disabilities and challenges know they are different. That isn't news to them. They know they will never high jump 19', run the 100 meter dash under 11 seconds, or maintain a 210 bowling average. Obama's reference was simply an acknowledgement that he is challenged and disabled in that particular sport.

The best thing about this President is that he is a regular person who walks, talks, and acts like every other person on the street. He isn't a "silver-spoon" elitist who is out of touch with the everyday person on the street (like nearly every president before him). Rather, he is a President who knows who we are, what we need, and is looking for ways to get us there.

Who cares I think people need to get a life! We have bigger problems to worry about this will all go away in a day or two.

Everyone has used the Special Olympics as the punch line to a joke at one time or another - or made jokes that are a bit off-color, so that doesn't bother me.

What bothers me is the reaction.

Had Bush, or any republican, done this, they'd simply be crucified.

Bam will get a pass where others certainly would not.

It also brings to mind Obama's gaffe regarding the guns/bible people of the midwest.

There appears to be a trend with these types of comments. Bam's got a pointed sense of humor, which is just fine for anyone ...

Anyone other than a president who touted himself as being a higher lever of person.

Stop looking for things to hang on to. So what because he said he bowled like HE WAS in the special olmplics. Please get a life and stop trying to make things more than what it is.

Billy Bouy:

"Savagely"? Are you kidding me? Listen to Rush much?

When you can sit there and claim that you've NEVER said anything that didn't come out right, when you know DAMN WELL he was purposely dissing the Special Olympics foundation, then you can criticize.

So you have proof that he's a 'regular user' of that phrase? According to whom? Do you have proof?

I agree the comment wasn't necessary, but....who did the editing of the Leno show? I suspect some producer wasn't overly offended and left the comment in.

In the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka in 'Stripes': "Lighten up, Francis."

It was the media that held President Obama up as the new messiah, and now that they find out that he isn't the perfect human being, they are trying to tear him down. How about we not forget the inarticulate boob that he replaced, and be happy with what we have.

SHUT UP.................Get over it, if thats how small your mind is, dont let it out at night!

Relax, everyone, and stop overreacting.

What a classless clown we have as a president.
He is a glib empty suit. He is embarrassing.

Hey Jim, Did you watch any of the last 8 years with Bush? Look up classless clown in the dictionary and there is a picture of Bush.

For all the teleprompter comments. Maybe Bush should have used one more often. He looked like a third grader.

One looks at it like anything else. In this case I thought that he used a bad choice of words but I do not feel that he meant anything bad by saying it. I do not feel that he thought before he spoke.

The holier-than-thou are constantly crucifying others while they themselves make such delusional and psychotic statements. Some feel they can sit in judgment and act as Judge, Jury, and Executioner. What we have in many instances is the pot calling the kettle black. There is no perfect person on this earth. They are so good at "CRY_WOLF". As we are supposed to measure each and every word these people think they can say whatever they want. Then the abusive think they can still make hay day out of what is stated.

No problem. This will bring more attention to the Special Olympics and all those great athletes who participate. To those who object, shall we insist on a new cabinet post, the Secretary of Word Police?

I didn't vote for the guy, but this is crazy that this is being made into such a big deal. The guy was making fun of himself. Get over it, unreal people. Do I think he is over his head being the President... YES!!

I am the very proud mother of a Special Olympic athlete. Anyone who knows me as a friend, family member or even
acquaintance is aware of my daughter's recent participation in the Illinois Regional Special Olympic Swim Meet.
The day was one of the most memorable of my life. For days on end, I gushed about it to anyone who would listen.

I will never forget the emotions of the day. The pride I felt was unlike anything I had ever experienced. As my
daughter prepared to compete in her first event, I was overwhelmed with bittersweet thoughts and memories of her
first ten years of life.

I remembered the day we saw her have her first of what would be many epileptic seizures.

I recalled the terror I initially felt in letting my daughter with epilepsy even enter a body of water, fearing she
would have a seizure and drown.

I thought of the doctor who claimed that "based on the data," she would never be able to swim.

I thought of the countless hours my daughter spent in a pool, working to master freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke
and butterfly in spite of her learning disabilities.

I also recalled her subsequently having to re-learn each of those strokes, because a seizure episode "erased" the
strokes from her memory.

I thought of the private Swim Club that - upon learning of her epilepsy - protested her participation and made me
sign specially-drafted liability waivers in order to let her participate.

I thought of her little legs shaking on the starting block before her very first race.

I thought of her mouth filling with water as she swam, because of the bright, wide smile that spread across her face.

I thought of the neighborhood Swim Team teammate who told her she swam too slow.

And I thought of her friend who valiantly defended her!

I thought about how she has worked harder to learn simple things, than most people have to work to master the
most complex things. I marveled at her strength, determination, and grit.

I felt honored to KNOW her, let alone be her mother.

Just participating in the events is a tremendous accomplishment. All of the athletes are winners. I spent the day
awestruck at my good fortune to be a spectator at this very special event.

On that particular day, my daughter earned two gold medals. I wept, overwhelmed by the joy, pride and emotions

That afternoon, I sent hundreds of emails to friends, neighbors, family members, colleagues and acquaintences,
recounting the joy, excitement and pride of the day. I immediately posted a photo album on my Facebook page. I
wore my Special Olympics t-shirt for several consecutive days! I have never bragged so much in my life, as I did in
the days that followed that meet. I jokingly told my friends to refer to me from then on as "Mrs. Phelps."

That day was a day of validation for my daughter and her fellow athletes. In a world where people with disabilities
often have to struggle daily, the Special Olympics provided the athletes with an opportunity to share their abilities
proudly! And the athletes shined brighter than any gold medal.

My daughter and I are not alone. We are merely two among the countless people who believe that people who know
just how hard people with disabilities - Special Olympics atheletes or not - work each and every day. And we are
merely two among the countless people who believe that ALL people are worthy of respect and dignity.

The message I convey today is one of love and respect. Here it is:

We must discourage the use of comments, jokes and "insults" that mock or disparage people with disabilities. We
must encourage others to value and respect individuals with special needs.

We all know that some individuals with disabilities are very effective advocates for themselves and their rights.

We also know that many individuals with disabilities - by virtue of those very disabilities - are unable to speak up
for themselves.

When this is the case, I believe that it becomes OUR responsibility to do it for them. We - the parents, siblings,
relatives, neighbors, and educators of people with disabilities - are the voice for the voiceless. Safeguarding their
honor is our responsibility. More importantly, it is our PRIVILEGE.

Please - help me reach out to everyone who may think that it is "okay" to make fun of people with disabilities.
While I certainly do not share Jay Leno's access to millions of viewers, I do have faith in humanity. I am a hopeful
person. I believe that - through you - we can certainly make a positive impact upon the public perception and
treatment of people with disabilities.

I sent out this request about a year ago, and I am repeating the request now.

First, please email everyone in your address book, asking them to refrain from using the "R" word and other
disparaging comments and "jokes" about people with disabilities.

Second, if you overhear someone making a comment that criticizes people with disabilities, please educate them on
the offensiveness of such language. It takes a few moments - and some guts - but you can make a positive impact
upon the world. At the end of the day, you will know that you have been the voice for the voiceless.

Thank you very much for reading this message.

And thank you in advance for spreading this message.

On the Same Team
Maureen Lowry-Fritz, J.D., M.A.

If he was a Republican there would be talk of impeachment. But he is a Democrat, and some papers didn't even cover it.

How easily these words came out of your mouth, Mr. President. Shame on you. These kinds of comments will surely earn you the respect of the people of this country and other countries who are watching you. Remember, our children look to you for an example.

The whole interview was FANTASTIC--but of course everyone chose to focus on the special olymics comment---REALLY?????To those people I say --GET A LIFE!!!!!

Actually nobody noticed and even thought anything about what the news media called a gaffe. Nothing was wrong with what President Obama said because in bowling a low scorer or inexperienced bowler is given a "handicap" to even the playing field with a seasoned bowler. Maybe the term "handicap" is not politically correct anymore. Did President Obama really mean any harm. I was taught to listen at the tone, pick up on context clues, etc. No harm was intended. By the way, my educational background is special education and has been for over 30 years.

Big deal on the Special Olympics comment. President Obama made a mistake. He apologized and, I'm sure, he truly IS very sorry. We need to lighten up, stop taking every little thing so seriously. Ask yourself, in a couple of years, is this really going to matter?

Big deal on the Special Olympics comment. President Obama made a mistake. He apologized and, I'm sure, he truly IS very sorry. We need to lighten up, stop taking every little thing so seriously. Ask yourself, in a couple of years, is this really going to matter?

You know people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. He did not disrepect anyone. My cousin is a member of the special olympic and if anyone should be able to say that he was being disrespectful would be my family. I believe someone needs to make someone in the public eye look bad and that person needs to get a life. So far President Obama is doing good so someone wants him to look bad. How sad is that.You need to look more at the children that are losing their life for no apparent reason. I want you to know also that I am not an african american either. I believe President Obama was just facing the fact he is not a good bowler but he is getting better. People need to cry about people losing their life for no reason and leave remarks that are not disrepecting people alone.
Thank you

The President is very fortunate not to have any disabled children, because of this he has NOT walked in any of our shoes. His comment was shameful and what is considered to be a true Freudian slip. Once a comment is said there is no taking it back or apologies, as it was on the tip of his tongue and without any forethought he said it with a hearty laugh included. Of course he will invite Special Olympic players to the White House he has to clean up his mess (after the fact), this does not count for his low comment. The word a very simple word he could have and should have used was he qualifies as a BEGINNER bowler, that would have been more than acceptable to everyone and no stones would have been thrown. It is more than obvious that he needs tele-prompts to speak in a correct manner, as it has been said he speaks with eloquence, hardly, hardly, hardly, he opened his mouth and his shoe went it or should have. Very distasteful Mr President and I didn't need tele-prompts to say the above, next time try talking without opening your mouth, less is more.

On behalf of this incompetent and heartless so called president I would like to apologise to all the physically challenged and very Special Olympic people around the world for the hurt and personal insult inflicted on you by this thoughtless man,who fooled a lot of people into voting for him..he was always in my eyes merely a PRETENDER not a PRESIDENT material as the world will soon see for itself.
As one of the previous commentators (Alan)said,
"It was the media that held President Obama up as the new messiah, and now that they find out that he isn't the perfect human being".Quote unquote.
Even his wife Michelle said in an interview recently-- after he was sworn in as President-- (not her exact words)," he is "GIFTED" but,after all he is just another man. I am not sure whether she meant he was "gifted" down there or up in his Arrogant, elitist and thoughtless brain.Remember this familiar saying (People usually say what they think).
I would love to be a fly on the wall when he meets with his old radical Pastor and left wing mates,and the insulting comments they would make about the American people, including his own race...I am sure that will make for very interesting listening.

Puleeeease Jim (previous commenter)- Bush WASN'T embarrassing? Every time he opened his mouth? Not to mention deceptive and greedy and ....not very smart. Let's focus on 1 second out of 25 minutes of relaxed natural intelligence.
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this genuine & honest man who has the best of all of us in his intentions.
Thank you Barack for taking on this job.

Lighten up !
Get a grip !

I better stop or I will get into trouble !!!!

Obama was making fun of himself when he mentioned his bowling....... tell people to get over it. There are a lot worse things being said all the time. Bush put his foot in his mouth all the time!!!

Is that all there is to the Special Olympics remark?
This is scary. I do think that his going on Jay Leno as president is a bit questionable. This set up President Obama for a potentially embarrising situation regardless of what he may have said.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 19, 2009 10:59 PM.

Michelle Obama in candid conversation with kids, talks about being told, "you talk like a white girl" was the previous entry in this blog.

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