On Fox News, yesterday, Mike Huckabee said this about incoming Chief of Staff John Kelly:
“If you have four stars on your shoulder, you’re not a slow learner, you didn’t ride the short bus. He will be fine.”
“Short bus” in this instance, is saying that Kelly is not intellectually disabled. In other words, it’s an “r-word” type slur, delivered here in the negative (Kelly is not a …). Huckabee then apologized over twitter.
I find the cultural space occupied by “r-word” type slurs revealing. So many people so casually resort to ableist slurs without even thinking, as Huckabee did here. It’s no worse, though, than Obama’s “special olympics” joke or Rahm’s “r-word” slurs. Both of those men apologized too, of course. Slurs about intellectual disability, then, occupy an unusual cultural space in which widely diverse people use them constantly and quickly recognize that they are in the wrong (Ann Coulter being the notable exception that proves the rule).
Huckabee has also made numerous racist, sexist, anti-homosexual, anti-Islamic, remarks over the years. He thinks of himself as a kind of insult comic (he’s not funny), richly sure he’s hilarious (he’s really not), and richly rewarded in cash from right-wing media. He’s having a nice post-government career going on air and insulting people. It’s what he does.
I’m glad Huckabee apologized. Ableism often escapes notice. It must be called out. But too often, especially among white parents of people with intellectual disabilities, our work against ableism starts and ends with the “r-word” and related slurs. We don’t look for the ways that ableism intersects with other forms of hate, satisfied to know that we’ve drawn the line around the r-word. That’s not good enough.
Huckabee is unfit for airtime. He is a vehicle of hate and division. If you’ve just noticed now with the “short bus” comment, go back and see his body of work. It’s vile.
Apology not accepted.