Progressive pundits and politicians have applied increasingly high standards on potentially offensive public speech amid a rise in what critics have dubbed “cancel culture.”
Now, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) might be on the receiving end of a cancellation attempt after a recent faux pas during a podcast interview.
“When I was first an assemblyman”
As the Washington Examiner reported, Schumer participated in the interview with OneNYCHA on Sunday and referred to mentally handicapped children as “retarded.”
During a discussion about public housing, host Saundra Coleman asked the Senate leader about opposition to the construction of housing for immigrant minors.
“I have found that my whole career,” Schumer replied. “I wanted to build, when I was first an assemblyman, they wanted to build a congregant living place for retarded children, and the whole neighborhood was against it.”
Describing the effort further, he added: “These are harmless kids. They just needed some help. We got it done [but] it took a while.”
Responding to the subsequent criticism, a statement from his office included an apology for “inappropriate and outdated” language.
“Outdated and hurtful language”
“For decades, Sen. Schumer has been an ardent champion for enlightened policy and full funding of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” a spokesperson told the Examiner.
The senator “is sincerely sorry for his use of the outdated and hurful language,” the statement conluded.
Of course, the word “retarded” was used in a clinical sense for decades after it was coined in the late 19th century as a neutral way to refer to mental handicaps. By the 1960s, however, it was widely used as a perjorative. A similar trend occurred with the words moron, imbecile, and idiot, which were all once clinical terms classifying different IQ ranges but have become insults used to demean another person’s intelligence.
A bill passed under the Obama administration in 2010 struck the term “retarded” from various federal statutes and New York lawmakers followed suit the next year with similar legislation of their own.
Some cancel culture proponents have called for the ostracism of public figures for similarly offensive slips of the tongue, even if arguably unintentional. Since Schumer is a prominent progressive, however, it seems likely that his apology will be enough to return him to the good graces of his base.