Political Animal


April 19, 2012 1:55 PM Bachmann’s “Tar Baby”

By Ed Kilgore

Ah, Michelle Bachmann, we’ve missed you! The fiery wingnut from Minnesota has not been much in the public spotlight since her presidential campaign crashed and burned, and she has given way to multiple members of the Class of 2010 as a symbol of extremism in the U.S. House.

But now she’s back, thanks to an interview with a Florida conservative web site wherein she accused the president of “waving a tar baby in the air” by criticizing oil speculators.

Most obviously, Ms. Bachmann is using this term without having a clue of its derivation and meaning, which is interesting in that it came in the midst of a tirade accusing the president of ignorance. And even if should does somehow confuse it with “red herring” or whatever she was trying to convey, it’s not terribly hard for anyone to understand that it’s a poor choice of words to use when denouncing the first African-American president. Perhaps she should have even been aware that Mitt Romney, the man she will soon be praising to the high heavens as America’s salvation, got into some hot water for using the very same term—more accurately, and in a context that did not specifically involve any people of color—back in 2009.

Romney quickly apologized for the gaffe, but I’ll bet you Bachmann won’t. More likely, she’ll start yammering about “political correctness” and the terrible habit liberals have of accusing Tea Partiers of racism when they are the real racists, etc., etc. She may well not have had any conscious racial motive in using the term—African-American linguist John McWhorter, for one, has argued that it is only a racial slur because it sounds like one to those who don’t know the original Uncle Remus story. Unfortunately for Bachmann, she appears to be among those who don’t know Uncle Remus from Harry Potter, and if as usual she shows herself unable to ever, ever back down, she may have created her very own “tar baby.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Texas Aggie on April 19, 2012 2:14 PM:

    I was wondering how Crazy Eyes (CE) was connecting a tar baby, a trap for the incredibly stupid, with talk about oil speculators. It didn't occur to me that she had no idea what "tar baby" meant. My bad.

    But what I liked most recently about CE was the recent bit where she was going on about how awful Obamacare is because "women should have control over their own bodies." If there were ever a prochoice announcement, that was it.

  • Fess on April 19, 2012 2:16 PM:

    You're right. The use of "tar baby" is very odd. Maybe she recognized that tar is related to oil and oil was her topic, so "waving a tar baby" somehow made sense to her. Do tar babies wave or can they be waved? Tar baby on a flag pole being waved around in the air? Creative thinking or total ignorance? I'm going with total ignorance. Real people would be embarrassed.

  • J on April 19, 2012 2:22 PM:

    Fess: perhaps total creative ignorance?

  • stormskies on April 19, 2012 2:24 PM:

    And just consider that this stupid, crazy, delusional creature has been elected by American in her district, and the reelected. We have a real problems with stupidity in our country. A stupidity that is so stupid that of course it does not know it's stupid and calls others stupid.

    Think of all the stuff Scott Walker has done. Yet his still have 50% support, and is favored to win the recall of him.

    Welcome to stupid America.

  • hells littlest angel on April 19, 2012 2:24 PM:

    Put your tar baby in the air,
    Wave it around like you just don't care.

  • beejeez on April 19, 2012 2:25 PM:

    How about it, Minnesotans? You kept voting her into office, maybe you have a deeper understanding of the Mind of Michelle and can explain her to us.

  • rrk1 on April 19, 2012 2:55 PM:

    Clearly, and as usual, Bat-shit Bachmann has no idea what the language she's using is really all about, or how irrelevant it is to the point she thinks she's making.

    Even the greedy and avaricious Disney operation did away with the Tar Baby imagery in their theme park because of its overt racist implications.

    When will a member of the corporate MSM ask the bat-shit belladonna from Minnesota what she means when she says something stupid like this?

  • BillFromPA on April 19, 2012 2:56 PM:

    As stupid as this skank is, I refuse to credit this to ignorance. Well before it became obvious that our dear Muslim in Chief was going to take the WH, wingnuts took to dancing right up the edge of overt racism,longing to utter the immortal words of Gabby Johnson who said, 'No dadgummit, the sheriff is a ni@@er'. These statements pass for clever among the mouth-breathers, Gorilla Glue, wink wink, tar baby, nudge nudge. Like fart jokes in the 5th grade, and created by minds no more advanced than that.

  • T2 on April 19, 2012 3:18 PM:

    a fun post. But the child's nursery story has always seemed an apt analogy for the GOP as brer Fox, and Obama as brer Rabbit. The Fox is beside himself that brer Rabbit is smart, clever, gets all the attention. Brer Fox devises the tar baby for the purpose of putting brer Rabbit in his rightful place..humiliated in front of us all. Just as brer Rabbit tricks brer Fox into doing exactly what brer Rabbit wants, Obama has often tried to do the same with the dunderheads of the GOP.....usually with less positive results than brer Rabbit gets, unfortunately.

  • martin on April 19, 2012 3:20 PM:

    Maybe Bachmann's mind was getting confused by the old Limbaugh trope about liberals always saying they are doing things "for the children." (this was, of course, before the Repubs adopted that tack for their deficit wars). Children=baby. Tar Baby=some useful metaphor from something deep in her lizard brain.

  • apetra on April 19, 2012 3:25 PM:

    As if she meant anything of the sort like that.

    I think it's refreshing to hear that she's ignorant of regular fair demagoguery of the race grievance complex.

  • boatboy_srq on April 19, 2012 3:27 PM:

    Bachmann's latest hit number, in the key of dog-whistle flat.

  • Robert Waldmann on April 19, 2012 3:37 PM:

    I agree that she is stuck to the "tar baby" and I, for one, have no intention of throwing her in the briar patch.

    But I must say the captcha which demands I type the word "pigliar" to comment on her ( I kid you not) is being a bit harsh.

  • TCinLA on April 19, 2012 5:09 PM:

    Since I do know the Joel Chandler Harris story (got raised on the book, a grandmother had the 1889 edition and it was one of the first books I learned to read at age 4) I'll say that if Obama is B'rer Rabbit inside the tar baby, Moron Michelle is Sistah Skunk (a character I created on my own here), urging ol' B'rer Fox to fight that tar baby harder.

    Michelle should perhaps educate herself to what happened to B'rer Fox and B'rer in that epic battle.

    God, every time I think she can't be that ignorant an airheaded bimbo, she proves me wrong.

  • TCinLA on April 19, 2012 5:13 PM:

    B'rer Fox and B'rer Bear

  • zandru on April 19, 2012 5:27 PM:

    "it is only a racial slur because it sounds like one to those who donít know the original Uncle Remus story"

    That's reminiscent of "Little Black Sambo." Perhaps only the elderly remember this story now, as it's been deemed unacceptably biased against African Americans. However, the tale of how a little dark-skinned boy outsmarted a group of tigers has nothing to do with Africa, or African Americans, because tigers only live in Asia...

    The backlash against the tale helped to drive a formerly-popular breakfast chain, "Sambo's", out of business. Apparently, it also wasn't nimble enough to re-name and re-brand.

  • Michael Robinson on April 19, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Ah, yes, but who can forget this classic?


    Liberals. The real racists. Or something. Anyway.

  • Carter on April 19, 2012 6:06 PM:

    Instead of saying "tar baby" I say "sticky niglet".

  • ericfree on April 19, 2012 6:38 PM:

    Well let's hear it for John McWhorter, whoever he is. I was rained with criticism from the Left, whom I thought should know better, for comparing the invasion of Iraq to a tar baby in 2003. (Hey, I was raised in Louisiana and Alabama, and when I was seven I thought Song of the South was a great movie. I'd still like to see it again if it were possible, which it isn't. And I still mourn for great black actors like that film's lead and the stars of the Amos 'n Andy TV series whose careers were wrecked by reverse-racist activists.)

    But the Iraq war was the ultimate tar baby: once you touched it you were stuck, and the more you tried to break free, the more stuck you were. Ultimately, it took one courageous soul in the right position to say "Enough!" Let's hope he does it for Afghanistan too. And, believe my half-Southern soul, there is seldom a better analogy for many if not most U.S. positions than the tar baby. Except, of course, when Baggers like Bachmann use it.

  • Charles on April 19, 2012 7:06 PM:

    I live in Bachmann's district only because my work is here. and I have learned to deal with this northern clan of the Confederacy - consisting of rigidly regressive German Benedictine Catholics and the strict, right-wing voodoo branch of Lutheranism -- the Wisconsin Synod. Gun rights and abortion being the primary issues that concern voters. The 6th District is what the world would have looked like had the Nazis won World War II and then gave up on ambition to rest on their laurels. It is white bread pusillanimity taken to the Nth degree.

    Please don't judge Minnesota by this buffoon. Just blame the ignorance of the 6th District masses - who really are clueless and demonstrate no signs of "Minnesota Nice." This place, it's like it is over-run by ghouls.

    Send help....quick!

  • Amused to death on April 19, 2012 7:47 PM:

    What makes any of you think it was an accident? Or am I missing the sarcasm??? Who in this country does not know what that term means????

  • exlibra on April 19, 2012 9:10 PM:

    Who in this country does not know what that term means???? -- Amused to death, @7:47 PM

    Until a couple of years ago, it would have been me, and I'm now 62.5. My husband and I alternated reading to our son (I read in Polish, he in English), so I was never in the room for the Uncle Remus stories (apparently a great hit with my husband when he was a little boy, and he passed on the love of them to ours). OTOH, I was familiar with the Brit (from the time of the Empire) phrase "a touch of tar", as a reference to dark (or, rather, mixed dark and white) sin. So, for many years, all "tar baby" meant to me was someone with dark skin. Ie a racist term.

    "hereduF enu". Sure as sure; her effed her kids edu enough; we all know that.

  • Daddy Love on April 19, 2012 10:35 PM:

    "African-American linguist John McWhorter, for one, has argued that it is only a racial slur because it sounds like one to those who donít know the original Uncle Remus story."

    Or, it's a racial slur because the term "tar baby" has been used pejoratively to refer to blacks ever since. Like, you know, a racial slur.

  • NLTR on April 20, 2012 12:17 AM:

    i too live here in the 6th district. i too am forever working to have someone else be in her stead. no, the 6th district is not all lazy-ass republicon catholics or lutherans. the district, in some areas, is not very well educated.....and, i will admit, have their heads up their asses.
    if we are able to inform some of these folks and get them out to vote, using their own mind instead of republicon indoctrination, perhaps we can lose this loser!

    please do not believe that all of minnesota is this evil, kniving, and ignorant. she is part of that population that believes being educated is snobbery .... well, she went to college, albeit, part of her time was spent at a christian pseudo college and graduated from a "not quite ready for the bar" christian law school.

    i would also question the authenticity of her type of christianity. it is time we realize she is just a glaring, infected symptom of a very scary and successful infection in this country. and, for some reason or another, a very well fed infection - (thank you koch brothers, et al) time to wake up and die right...

  • John on April 20, 2012 5:49 AM:

    "African-American linguist John McWhorter, for one, has argued that it is only a racial slur because it sounds like one to those who donít know the original Uncle Remus story."

    Or, it's a racial slur because the term "tar baby" has been used pejoratively to refer to blacks ever since. Like, you know, a racial slur.


    That's interesting. I've often wondered about this. I've known this story since childhood and thought it was a great source of wisdom in many ways. The imagery of the tar baby as a deceptive problem that draws one in more firmly the one struggles is very clear. I've heard my share of racial terms but I've never heard tar baby used that way.

  • anandine on April 20, 2012 8:16 AM:

    Maybe she was waving the tar baby because she was trying to throw it away, but it was stuck to her hands.

  • Jose Hipants on April 20, 2012 1:37 PM:

    I've been living among redneck racists for over 60 years and have heard lots of racial pejoratives, but never have I heard the term "tar baby" used as anything but a reference to getting yourself into something that will be hard to get out of.
    It seems too apt a term for US military adventures to just quit using it. Is there a replacement that means the same thing and will be readily understood?