This post has been updated.
A House Republican apologized to President Obama Wednesday for saying that being associated with Obama's policies is like “touching a tar baby.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, (R-Colo.), made the gaffe last week on a Denver radio show, before realizing that to some people, “tar baby” is a racial epithet.
Lamborn’s office later issued a statement to assuage the situation, saying the congressman was trying to explain that Obama's policies “have created an economic quagmire for the nation.”
The congressman meant to say “quagmire” instead of “tar baby,” the statement said.
The term “tar baby” has its origin in a doll made of tar and turpentine that was used to entrap the Br’er Rabbit character in the Uncle Remus stories. While the term means a situation from which it is nearly impossible to extricate oneself, it also carries a derogatory meaning.
“Tar baby” wasn’t the first gaffe that came out of the debt ceiling debacle.
On Monday, after Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said of the Tea Party and fiscal conservatives’ actions in the debt talks: “We have negotiated with terrorists,” Biden reportedly agreed, saying “They have acted like terrorists.”
At first, Biden’s office denied the statement. Later, his spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff issued a statement “clarifying” the issue.
“The word [terrorist] was used by several members of Congress. The vice president does not believe it’s an appropriate term in political discourse,” Barkoff said.
The Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote of Biden’s gaff: “He’s never been exactly gaffe-proof, in the sense that gasoline has never been exactly fireproof. When you spend more than 10 minutes around him you get that same disconcerting feeling that overcomes you when you bring your grandfather to a rap concert, the idea that if he stays here any longer he’s going to say something kind of oblivious that will ruin the whole event.”
But despite the jokes, Petri argues that just as Lamborn acknowledged his mistake, Biden should apologize.
Of course, these two gaffes are not the same. One carries implications of racism and the other is an inappropriate label used out of frustration.
But whether you are vice president or a member of Congress, the position comes with the requirement to act, as Petri points out, “if not presidentially, at least like a grown-up.”
UPDATE, 1:20 p.m.
Commenters have rightly pointed out that a distinction needs to be made between the nature of Biden’s gaffe and Lamborn’s gaffe, and that the term “tar baby” has a long history. I’ve updated the post to reflect these.