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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, July 31, 2006


It started as a small blip on the radar screen. Our (former) governor, back on the campaign trail in Iowa after vanquishing Matt Amorello, boasted he wasn't afraid to take on any issue.
"The best thing for me to do politically is stay away from the Big Dig -- just get as far away from that tar baby as I possibly can," Romney said, answering an audience question about whether his new responsibility for the project's safety carried political risk. "But I got elected as governor of Massachusetts. It's part of my job to do what I think is the right thing."
But the blip on the screen is getting bigger as a debate begins on whether ill-chosen words will hamper or doom his nascent candidacy. And there's some family history he must surely be thinking about.

The scene is 1968. Michigan Gov. George Romney (a liberal Republican) dipped his toes into foreign policy by taking a trip to Vietnam. (Interestingly, George Romney resigned to run -- something Mitt has only partially done).

Trying to explain why he was flipflopping his position from pro-war to anti-war, the elder Romney said he had been "brainwashed" into supporting the war. Game. Set. Match.

But back to today. It appears the new favorite term of the GOP to describe tough, sticky situations is "tar baby." While rooted in the classic Uncle Remus tale of B'rer Rabbit, there is a difference of opinion over whether it is a derogatory term.

No less a literary light than African-American poet and writer Toni Morrison, author of the novel Tar Baby, insists it is not.
"How it became a racial epithet, I don't know," she said. "It was my attempt to rescue the phrase from its low meaning. I wanted to annihilate the connotation and return the meaning to its origins. Apparently, I haven't succeeded."
Certainly not if you read the Boston Herald -- presumably a Romney-friendly newspaper, which gleefully highlights his "UnMittigated Insensitivity" in a series of stories today.

While Mitt has offered the obligatory apology, the obvious question becomes whether this is similar to the loose-lipped moment that brought down his dad politically.

Personally, I take my brain without starch.


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