I first cringed when I heard Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) say in the interview above that President Obama has proved “over and over, in spades” that he didn’t have the experience for the job. That’s one thing; after all, anyone playing a card game, or perhaps gardening, may have occasion to use the word “spade,” despite its racial double-meaning.
But “tar baby”? One can understand why that is a little tougher to take literally when used in the context of the first black president. (And it doesn’t even mean what she thinks it means.)
Referring to the Obama energy plan concerning the Keystone XL pipeline and his economic record, the former Republican candidate for the President’s job said this at about the 1:48 mark of the video above:
This is just about [waving] a tar baby in the air and saying that something else is a problem. I have never seen a more irresponsible President who is infantile in the way that he continually blames everyone else for his failure to first diagnose the problem and second to address the problem.
The inevitable No, That Wasn’t Meant To Sound Racist™ walkback came quickly, to Politico. (Spot the anti-abortion dog-whistle!)
“The Congresswoman values all human life – regardless of race, color or creed,” Rogness said. “If you listen to the interview, Rep. Bachmann was making a point about the President’s poor understanding of oil prices, which has nothing to do with race. The President doesn’t understand the oil market and hence, has gotten himself into a sticky situation.”
That sounds more like a clarification than an apology. It’s pretty evident that she saw nothing wrong with the metaphor. (Again, the full context of the comment is above, so you can determine for yourself what you hear.)
To me, this is less about whether or not it was meant to be racist. It’s the fact that when you say “tar baby” within 500 rhetorical yards of President Obama, you can expect some blowback, and Republicans like Bachmann either are so careless and ignorant of what this kind of term means, or they couldn’t care less, period.
That fits the paradigm by which the Right has operated under for decades: racial problems are solved, at least to their satisfaction. But if one complains about the racial connotations – or in Fox Nation, merely reports the story, you bad, “left-wing Politico” – it’s essentially their fault. Anti-racism is racism, per the Right. (Remember the term “reverse discrimination”? Yeah, that was fun.)
Sadly, I think it has a lot to do with what Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates articulated today (with a properly figurative, less racially weighted use of the word “tar,” by the way):
The conservative movement doesn’t understand anti-racism as a value, only as a rhetorical pose. This is how you end up tarring the oldest integrationist group in the country (the NAACP) as racist. The slur has no real moral content to them. It’s all a game of who can embarrass who. If you don’t think racism is an actual force in the country, then you can only understand it’s invocation as a tactic.
This is a very old way of you thinking. It’s what you get out of watching Buckley’s bumbling response to Baldwin–he neither regards Baldwin with any seriousness, nor the issue with any real concern. It’s a game to him. He is effectively a homer for team red. Nothing else matters.
When he refers to James Baldwin and William F. Buckley, Jr., Coates is talking about this video of their televised debate, which he posted last week. I recommend that you watch it in full to get a better grasp on just how long this kind of stuff has been going on.