Updated: August 1, 2011 at 12:00 am
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn sent an apology to the White House Monday concerning a comment he made Friday during an interview with a Denver radio station.
He said during the interview about Obama's budget policies that being linked to President Barack Obama would be “like touching a tar baby.”
“I don’t even want to have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar baby, and you get it — you know, you’re stuck, and you’re part of the problem now, and you can’t get away,” Lamborn said. “I don’t want that to happen to us (Republicans), but if it does, or not, he’ll still get — properly so — the blame, because his policies, for four years, will have failed the American people.”
Though “tar baby” is defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “something from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself,” it has also long been recognized as a derogatory term for blacks.
Regardless of definition, Lamborn is taking serious heat from several angles. Two local black community leaders immediately condemned the congressman's comments, and said he should know better.
Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP, said the connotations of the phrase "tar baby" are too well-known to make Lamborn's use of it excusable.
"The world already views (El Paso County) as ultra conservative, 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 said.
Diane Allen-Philips, president of the Urban League of the Pikes Peak Region, said the congressman should be more conscious of the type of example he's setting.
"I don’t think you can just toss that phrase out and not have it associated with the past," said Allen-Philips. "If Barack Obama was not African American, would he have used the same terminology?"
In an email, Lamborn spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen wrote, "Congressman Lamborn regrets any misunderstanding. He simply meant to refer to a sticky situation or quagmire.”
Mortensen said neither Lamborn's district or Washington, D.C. offices had received any complaint about the "tar baby" comment until Denver radio show host David Sirota aired the interview clip Monday morning on 760 AM.
Monday evening, Lamborn's office sent a news release saying he had "sent a personal letter to President Barack Obama apologizing for using a term some find insensitive." The release said Lamborn is "confident that the President will accept his heartfelt apology."
Earlier in the day, El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Kathleen Ricker called for just such an apology, saying the congressman's statement was not enough.
“I am ashamed to call Doug Lamborn the federal representative for my community,” said Ricker. “For all that we try to do to convince the nation that our community is not a backwards, hateful, area, this foolish man speaks before thinking because he believes that politically he is invincible and invulnerable.”
Ricker's comments were immediately dismissed as "cheap political shots" by Eli Bremer, chair of the El Paso County Republican Party. Bremer said Lamborn's statement was being taken out of context, and was not at all intended as a reference to Obama's skin color.
"It's disgraceful that anyone would try and insinuate that he was being racist," said Bremer. "I think there are people out there who believe it is a racist term, but what’s important is not how people construe it but how it’s intended. It’s really unfair to take something completely out of context and try to politically destroy them because of it."
Lamborn isn't the only politician to ever land in hot water by using those two words. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was lambasted in 2006 for using the phrase in reference to a construction project, and U.S. Sen. John McCain had to apologize in 2007, during his presidential run, for using it in reference to divorces.
The interview took place on the Caplis and Silverman radio show in Denver, on KHOW 630 AM. To listen to the full interview, visit www.khow.com/pages/caplisandsilverman and listen to the 5 p.m. hour.