Scientists have long puzzled of an interesting anomaly in the LaBrea tar pits: That predators like wolves and saber tooth cats are present in vastly higher numbers than they should be. After a while, somebody figured out that predators would jump on the backs of trapped mammoths, and themselves wind up getting swallowed by the sucking asphaltum.
Republican Doug Lamborn of Colorado just jumped on the wrong mammoth.
He said this on that bastion of Republican good ideas, AM radio. Specifically, an interview he gave on 630 KHOW’s Capil and Silverman show:
“Even if some people say, ‘Well the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that,’ they will hold the President responsible. Now, I don’t even want to have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar baby…and you get it, you’re stuck, and you’re a part of the problem now and you can’t get away.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the term, it refers to the trap used in the second Uncle Remus story (1881), in which Br’er Fox constructs a doll made out of a lump of sticky tar, dresses it up in baby clothes and attempts to use it to trap the unsuspecting Br’er Rabbit. They were kind of the Wiley Coyote and Roadrunner of the day. Since then, a “tar baby” has been used as one of those charmingly rural phrases, meaning “a sticky situation,” or “something you don’t want to touch.” That particular story actually has its roots in African folklore, in reference to a similar trap laid by Anansi to trap Mmoatia.
Maybe that’s how it came to be associated with racial undertones, and ultimately, commonly, used as a Southern pejorative for blacks. That might also have something to do with Disney’s interpretation of the Remus stories, known as “The Song of the South.”
Lamborn has since issued a letter of apology to the White House for the statement, for which he has not yet received a reply. He said this in an interview with the Denver Post:
“I absolutely intended no offense, and if this is at all on his radar screen, I am sure that he will not take offense, and he’ll be happy to accept my apology because he is a man of character.”
He might have been sincere, too; Lamborn, say what you will about him, is an old-school corporate Republican who runs on defense contractor money, not frothing Teabagger rabidity. And it’s not as though Lamborn is the first politician to use the phrase; a number of other people including Mitt Romney, John McCain, Michelle Bachmann and even John Kerry have used it (at least ostensibly) in its original meaning.
But, still…REALLY? It doesn’t matter how you slice it, the Kansas native (who has certainly heard it used in other contexts) literally just CALLED A BLACK MAN A TAR BABY.
Define “Freudian slip.“