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Racially tinged remarks prompt hasty backtracking

August 03, 2011|By Michael Muskal | Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn and President Obama.
Rep. Doug Lamborn and President Obama. (Rep. Doug Lamborn's office )

For those who still think the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African American president has ushered in the era of post-racial politics, consider the racially loaded terms "tar baby" and "boy."

Both slurs have returned to the political arena, forcing those uttering them — a sitting congressman and a prominent commentator who tried to become president himself — to quickly backtrack and explain the usage.

Amid the fiercely partisan battles over raising the debt ceiling, Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn took to the airwaves last week to criticize Obama’s policies, infelicitously comparing them to a “tar baby.”  The tar baby is a doll made of tar and turpentine used to entrap Br'er Rabbit in the second of the Uncle Remus stories. While it is was originally used to mean a sticky situation, it has also come to be widely considered a racist term to describe African Americans.

In a letter to Obama, Lamborn apologized for using the phrase. In a statement, Lamborn said he was attempting to tell a radio audience that Obama’s “policies have created an economic quagmire for the nation and are responsible for the dismal economic conditions our country faces. He regrets that he chose the phrase ‘tar baby,’ rather than the word ‘quagmire.’ ”

If Lamborn’s comments have created a bit of a political morass, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan also found himself in a sticky political situation about race.

Buchanan appeared on his cable network’s “Morning Joe,” program Wednesday to explain his remarks the night before when he referred to Obama as “your boy” during a discussion with the Rev. Al Sharpton.

The pair, an opposite sides of the ideological road, were discussing Obama's actions when Buchanan, a conservative who has tried to win the GOP’s presidential  nomination, told Sharpton that “your boy,” Obama, had caved during negotiations.

“My what?” Sharpton asked. “My president, Barack Obama? What did you say?”

Buchanan, using a boxing analogy, replied that Obama was “your boy in the ring.”

“He's nobody's boy,” Sharpton said. “He's your president, he's my president, and that's what you have to get through your head.”

Buchanan took note on Wednesday.

“Some folks took what I said as some kind of a slur,” Buchanan said. “None was meant, none was intended, none was delivered.”

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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