Doug Lamborn's Barack Obama-tar baby remark: Intentionally racist or harmless?

As we reported yesterday, Doug Lamborn said that being associated with Barack Obama was like touching a tar baby during a Friday radio appearance -- a gaffe for which he's now apologized. But did he need to? An editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette suggests it was really no big deal -- and a related poll shows that readers are divided about whether the remark was intentionally racist or utterly harmless.

In the editorial, the Gazette's Wayne Laugesen traces the roots of the "tar baby" expression, which refers to a "sticky situation" -- but he concedes that its association with the Uncle Remus stories also carries with it a negative connotation toward African-Americans. As such, Laugesen maintains that Lamborn "should certainly have known better than to use a phrase that needs to die. This will call into question his judgement and his attitude toward black people."

Afterward, however, Laugesen contrasts major twentieth century political figures once tainted by racist activities, from Harry Truman to Robert Byrd, with more recent language kerfuffles related to Obama, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's 2008 comment that the man who became president is a "light-skinned African American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Laugesen's conclusion? "Let us all stop saying 'tar-baby,' for sure. For using this phrase, Lamborn will pay. He is mired in a controversy that will get worse as he fights against it. But let's keep perspective. Relative to the racial hatred and insensitivity that permeates political rhetoric of the past and present, this should be far from a major-league scandal."

As for Gazette readers, they're divided about whether Lamborn should be castigated. At this writing, 36 percent believe the tar-baby quip was "intentionally racist," while an equal percentage see it as "Harmless. He was describing a quagmire; he meant no offense." Here's a screen capture of the poll:

To hear Lamborn's remark for yourself, click here.

More from our Politics archive: "Doug Lamborn retreats as the National Renewable Energy Lab touts its achievements."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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