Pol: Didn't know 'tar baby' was an insult to Obama

Posted: August 03, 2011

REP. DOUG LAMBORN'S office says the Colorado Republican regrets any misunderstanding over his comments on a Denver-based radio show in which he said being associated with President Obama was like "touching a tar baby."

Lamborn, best known for fighting federal funding for National Public Radio, made the remark when responding to comments on KHOW-AM on Friday about whom voters would hold responsible for actions on the nation's debt ceiling. He said he thought voters would blame the president. "Now I don't want to even have to be associated with him. It is like touching a tar baby and you get it - you're stuck, and you're part of the problem now," Lamborn said.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "tar baby" as a sticky situation, but the phrase originated with the Uncle Remus stories, told in dialect, by Joel Chandler Harris. Many people consider the term "tar baby" to be a racial epithet.

Among them, noted the New York Daily News, is Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP. She called the congressman's words "vitriolic."

"The world already views [El Paso County] as ultraconservative, ultra right-wing, tea-party-loving, gay-bashing, an epicenter of hate. With two vitriolic words, our own congressman again sealed our fate," Harris Lytle told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

And Diana Allen-Phillips, president of the area Urban League, told the Gazette, "You can't just toss that phrase around and not have it associated with the past. If Barack Obama was not African-American, would he have used the same terminology?"

Lamborn's spokeswoman, Catherine Mortensen, said in a written statement Monday that Lamborn had simply meant to refer to a sticky situation. She says Lamborn sent an apology letter to President Obama.

"The congressman regrets that he chose the phrase 'tar baby' rather than the word 'quagmire,' Mortenson said in a written statement on Monday.

In 2007, the Daily News reported, then Gov. Mitt Romney used the phrase referring to the Big Dig construction boondoggle in Boston, and in 2008 Sen. John McCain used the term while discussing divorce. Both of them apologized.

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