Bachmann’s “Tar Baby”

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.”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.