A movie star can get away with a quote like that; worst-case scenario, the publicist issues a clarification the next day.
Barack Obama, though, is going to have to contend with furious advocates for the mentally disabled. That's why his press team was backing off the comments before Jay Leno's show was over. (A clip of the comment is above. Notice Leno stammering as he processes what just happened.)
MSNBC talking head Keith Olbermann and Late Late Show host Colin Ferguson were wringing their hands over the Special Olympics comment earlier tonight (see video above).
Gotcha variety-show-watching aside, most Americans have bigger things to worry about than whether the president inadvertently offended the athletic prowess of the mentally disabled. But then they probably also have bigger things to worry about than the other topics covered by Leno and Obama: puppies, bowling or flying on Air Force One (see NBC highlights reel below). So net-net it's hard to see much upside in this Tonight Show appearance for Obama.
It's like the president recruited his image handlers from the Special Ol... well, like they're differently abled, adept at Beltway positioning, unprepared for Hollywood sound stages.