McCain and the “tar baby”

Like Mitt Romney before him, McCain uses and then apologizes for using the racially charged expression.

Topics: 2008 Elections, War Room, Mitt Romney, John McCain, R-Ariz.,

Responding to a question about the rights of divorced fathers during a town hall meeting in Cedar Falls, Iowa, today, John McCain said that he wouldn’t want to interfere in the decisions of divorce courts because doing so would be “getting into a tar baby of enormous proportions.”

Random House notes that “tar baby” is “used occasionally as a derogatory term for black people” and that “some people suggest avoiding the use of the term in any context.” At a press conference after today’s town hall event, McCain said: “I don’t think I should have used that word. And I was wrong to do so.”



The Arizona senator isn’t the first Republican presidential candidate to use — and then apologize for using — the term. Mitt Romney was forced to apologize last summer after using it to describe a troubled highway project. Tony Snow also used the term in his very first White House press conference. Later, he said that he’d take “tar baby” out of his “toolchest of rhetorical devices” even though he thought people who consider the term racist just don’t understand “a hundred and fifty years of American culture.”

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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