Hypothetically – and this is purely hypothetical because of course I would never mock a topic widely considered to be a social taboo – let's say I photoshopped a picture of Cindy McCain holding Sarah Palin's youngest child with a caption such as "OMG! I HAS A TARD!" That would pretty much make me the worst person on Earth, right? It would be so mean that it might actually cause me problems beyond the internet – for example, my students, employer, and potential employers could find it deeply offensive and use it as (justified) grounds for filing formal complaints against me, refusing to renew my contract, or not hiring me in the first place, respectively. And God forbid I ever ran for public office; my insensitivity to the developmentally disabled would be a disaster of campaign-ending proportions (unless I ran as a Republican, in which case IOKIYAR takes over). In short, I would be a bad person and widely recognized as such.
Let's say, on the other hand, that I was the Vice Presidential nominee of a major political party rather than a guy who makes less than your bus driver but has internet access. Say that instead of making a jpeg image disrespecting Downs Syndrome I used a child with DS as a prop during a nationally-televised address, passing him or her from person to person so that everyone present could hold him (facing outward) and smile into the camera for a moment or two. Let's say that, rather than calling said child a tard, I cynically exploited him or her to not-so-subtly communicate with a core constituency. And then I followed it by asserting, with all the phony indignation I could muster, that of course I wasn't using a tard as a prop, I was merely expressing my love for my child (and allowing the wife of the nominee, who I'd known for about 4 days, do the same).
One of the two scenarios I have described here would get me fired. The other would, in part, qualify me for the highest office in the land. Lesson learned; it's OK to cynically exploit the handicapped for political gain, but not to use insulting (and hilarious) language when describing them.
Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, learned this lesson well. His political career ended when he described his staff thusly during a speech: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent." That ended his political career.
It didn't end his career that, as Secretary, he quintupled the acres of Federal land leased to the coal mining industry. That he attempted to eliminate the Land Water Conservation Fund. That he said about his attitude toward conservation "I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations." That he described his mission as "We will mine more, drill more, cut more timber." That he took the most aggressive measures to limit Federal regulatory power over environmental issues than anyone before or since. That he leased, by his own estimation, "a billion acres" of coastal land for oil development. That he suggested that if problems with environmentalists "cannot be solved in the jury box or at the ballot box, perhaps the cartridge box should be used."
It's OK to be the worst person on the planet, to be a Cabinet officer in the White House while suggesting that a large group of Americans should be murdered for disagreeing with you. It's OK to occupy one of the highest offices in the land despite being almost cartoonishly unqualified and ignorant. Using foul language, though, is a bridge too far.