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Palin 'Family Guy' joke is hateful

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Family Guy" show alluded to Sarah Palin's disabled child
  • Ruben Navarrette says the jab was unfunny and hurtful
  • He says liberals who normally denounce such offensive references are silent on this one

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board, a nationally syndicated columnist and a regular contributor to CNN.com.

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Sarah Palin has awesome power. We already knew that she had the power to drive liberal Democrats crazy. They don't respect her, but they sure do fear her.

And this week we learned that Palin also has the power to make those same liberal Democrats forget all the preaching they've shared with the rest of us over the years about the importance of tolerance and defending those with special needs.

Like, say, a little boy with Down syndrome who will be two years old in April but who has already been the butt of a national joke by the brainless and heartless creator and producers of the Fox animated comedy, "Family Guy."

In a recent episode, the character Chris is dating a teenage girl with Down syndrome, and when he asks her what her parents do, she says, "My dad's an accountant, and my mom is the former governor of Alaska."

Get it? If you don't get it, you're trying awfully hard not to get it. All week, the Palin haters have made feeble attempts to excuse away the offense.

It's a teenage girl, not a 2-year-old boy. Palin isn't even mentioned. How is this scene an attack on anyone, let alone a child with Down syndrome? Yada, yada.

Please. The whole reason the gag was inserted into that scene in the first place is because it was assumed that the audience would know exactly who the dig was aimed it. Otherwise the joke doesn't work. When the bit is taken literally, the target is Palin's son Trig. But clearly, the intended target was Palin. With the former GOP vice presidential candidate, bestselling author, television commentator and high-priced speaker riding high, this was about trying to take her down a peg.

As someone who is paid to do the same thing with politicians, I'd normally have a hard time criticizing a jab at a public figure -- even if I like the person, as is the case with Palin. But here, liberal Hollywood made it easy.

This gag was unfunny, unkind and unnecessary.

Unfunny because I doubt liberals would have found the humor in a bit showing President Clinton, one of their icons, having a heart attack.

Unkind because at the center of all this is a toddler with Down syndrome who, as Palin's daughter Bristol wrote on her mom's Facebook page, already has a hard life in store -- filled with intolerance, prejudice and limitations imposed by others. David Tolleson, head of the Atlanta-based National Down Syndrome Congress, called parts of the gag "hurtful and stereotypical."

And unnecessary because there are a million different ways to have written that scene that wouldn't have been so cruel.

Wanna take Palin down a peg? Fine. But don't use her child to do it -- especially this child.

Video: Palin rips 'Family Guy'
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Again, it's disappointing that none of this seems to bother those on the left who are, it turns out, much more willing to put up with intolerance when it's aimed at one of their nemeses. But liberals aren't the only ones veering off their script.

Conservatives are, too. After years of telling women, minorities, gays and lesbians, and others to lighten up and not be so overly sensitive to flashes of intolerance and bigotry, now folks on the right are singing a different tune. They're outraged -- and circling the wagons around Palin.

Good. Glad to hear it. They should be outraged. But does this mean I can count on their support the next time there's an insensitive or offensive comment, cartoon, caricature or other item that goes beyond the pale and offends someone they don't care about?

And what of Hollywood? How much consistency do we find there? Not much.

"Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that he's "an equal opportunity offender" and that "from its inception, 'Family Guy' has used biting satire as the foundation of its humor."

This is the same show that, during the presidential election, compared Palin and running mate John McCain to Nazis. In an episode that aired in October 2008, some of the characters are transported back in time to Nazi Germany where they try to blend in by pilfering uniforms of the Third Reich, one of which had a McCain/Palin button on the lapel.

This is the same Seth McFarlane who, that same month, spoke at an Obama-Biden rally at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where he took shots at Republicans and urged students to support the Democratic ticket.

Equal opportunity offender? I've seen the show. It's not that funny. But the guy behind it is a riot.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.