No, It’s Not Okay for Bill Maher to Make Fun of Special Needs Children, Even If They’re a Palin

There has been a lot of outrage voiced on conservative blogs about Bill Maher recently mocking Trig Palin as “retarded” during one of his comedy routines. Sarah Palin herself took to Twitter to call Maher out, and deservedly so. I have found myself agreeing with a lot of what Bill Maher has said in the past, and I would even go so far as to say that he can be very entertaining to listen to at times. However, making fun of special needs children crosses the line. It doesn’t matter what ridiculous political views the parent(s) of the child have taken — the child does not deserve to be ridiculed. End of story.

I am the father of a special needs daughter who is autistic and has type 1 diabetes. Raising a child is a hard enough job as it is — raising a special needs child is a unique and oftentimes mentally exhausting experience that nobody can truly understand or appreciate unless they have done so themselves. And please spare me the whole line some liberals like to use that Sarah Palin hasn’t “raised” Trig anyway, her hired help has raised him so she hasn’t had to worry about anything. When you have a special needs child, their well-being is always on your mind, regardless of whether or not you have “help” raising them. The same can be said when your raising a child who doesn’t have any “special needs” — but when they do, your awareness and sense of concern is heightened even further.

This hasn’t been a new development for Maher in his quest to provide audiences with “entertainment” at the expense of Trig Palin’s Down syndrome. What’s so hard about being funny without making fun of a special needs child? Certainly Sarah Palin herself is fair game for a wide range of mocking and deserved ridicule as a result of her actions. Bristol Palin, as an adult in the public eye, is fair game as well. Even Willow Palin deserved the criticism she received after posting a homophobic slur on Facebook. There’s a big difference between criticizing and ridiculing a bratty teenager for posting homophobic slurs on Facebook, and ridiculing a 5 year old child for having Down syndrome.

What is Maher trying to prove? That Trig is fair game simply because his mom is a blithering idiot? Weak excuse, and weak comedy. The fact that Maher has ridiculed Trig in a similar fashion in the past is just proof that he doesn’t care. Apparently, this is his way of “pushing the envelope” and being “edgy.” I like edgy comedy — I thoroughly enjoyed every Carlin HBO special, and my wife and I frequently visit the local comedy clubs which are anything but kid friendly. And like I said, I enjoy Bill Maher when he’s on top of his game. But let me reiterate — joking about a special needs child for the sake of “edgy comedy” is not funny, nor should it be acceptable.

I’m not writing this to “stick up” for Sarah Palin, or to vilify Maher and suggest people permanently boycott everything he’s involved with. In my opinion, Sarah Palin herself is a pathetic politician, terrible commentator and questionable human being (at best). But she’s also a mom, and I’m not going to judge her special needs child, or sit back silently as others cruelly mock his Down syndrome for the sake of cheap laughs from the weak-minded. When the person doing the mocking is supposedly on “my side” of the political spectrum, it leads to easy material for hate mongering right-wing blogs to say, “See, liberals laugh at and make fun of special needs children!” Which, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth with most liberals.

I genuinely hope that Bill Maher thinks long and hard about the message he’s sending. It’s not okay to ridicule special needs children, regardless of who their parents are. If we can’t make this known and call out anybody who’s doing it — regardless of whether or not they’re on “our side” — then we’ve failed in the fight against bullying. And I won’t sit back and let that happen without making my voice heard.

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr is a writer, editor and activist who's passionate about progressive ideals, with extra attention given to the fight for universal health care, medical marijuana, and saving our nation from decades of devastating trickle-down policies. Thomas is also a dedicated advocate for Type 1 diabetes research and education.
Be sure to check out his archives on Forward Progressives for more of his viewpoints.
Thomas Barr


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