Just hours after supporters of the liberal group Moveon.org crammed into U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s district office Tuesday to protest his use of “tar baby” on a Denver radio show last week, Lamborn made a return appearance on the same show to defend himself.
Tuesday morning, Lamborn district office manager Daniel Nordberg fielded questions from 20 angry protesters, several of whom blasted the congressman and said he needs to be “educated” on civil rights and race relations. “Tar baby” a character in the nineteenth-century Uncle Remus stories about Bre’er Rabbit and Bre’er Fox, and has long been considered a racial slur against African Americans.
“He has to be an idiot, to use a word like that,” one man yelled.
A woman said their new nickname for the congressman is “Representative Lame-brain.”
Another woman said pointedly to Nordberg, “I would like to see him go into a black community, dressed as a black man, with blackface on, and live for a month, so he can understand a different point of view.”
When Nordberg told the group Lamborn had already issued a statement apologizing for his remarks, several in the crowd said they didn’t believe him.
“Let’s throw him in the briar patch!” one man yelled, to the amusement of the crowd.
Lamborn late Monday sent a letter of apology to Obama. The White House has not commented on the issue.
Later in the day, Lamborn told Denver radio show host Craig Silverman and his guest host Bob Beauprez that he wasn’t aware “tar baby” was a racial slur.
“I’ve never heard that term used derogatorily,” Lamborn said on the show. “Maybe the guy who started this, he’s been around racists a lot and had a deprived upbringing.”
Though Lamborn admitted using the term was “clumsy,” he insisted his comments were misinterpreted. Rather, he said he was criticizing Obama’s economic policies, and had used “tar baby” as a simile to explain that Republicans don’t want to risk being found guilty by association by aligning themselves with the president.
“A lot of people have overreacted or are trying to stir things up,” he said. “If there’s reasonable people, they’ll know this was totally unintentional on my part.”
Lamborn added that he admires the president “personally,” and what he’s accomplished for race relations in America.
“We’re all made in the image of God, and all of us are deserving of the same respect. That’s how I try to live my life,” said Lamborn.
Either way, the congressman now has an official Democratic opponent for next year’s election. And he’s black.
Bob Evans, a part-time history professor at Colorado College, showed up to the rally, protest sign in hand. He said Lamborn’s use of “tar baby” is “absolutely inexcusable.”
“This is not who we want to represent us. This is not the real El Paso County,” Evans said of Lamborn.