Friday, May 19, 2006

B'rer Tony and the Tar-Baby

A comment on this entry brought it to my attention that I had not indicated that I am aware of the metaphorical meaning of "tar baby," nor had I mentioned the context of Mr. Snow's use of the term. I assure you that I do know what Mr. Snow meant; a "tar-baby" refers to a situation that someone is using to bait you, and that, once you take the bait, will be difficult to extricate yourself from. It has a similar meaning to the term "quagmire." In this case, what Tony Snow was saying was that he would not answer the question, because he didn't want to get trapped into a debate where anything he said could be turned against him:

Q You might repeat the same thing, but why not declassify this? I mean, the President did talk about the surveillance program a day after The New York Times broke that story. This would seem to affect far more people, and it did sound like the President was confirming that story today. He was answering Terry's question --

MR. SNOW: Well, if you go back -- if you go back and you look through what he said, there was a reference to foreign-to-domestic calls. I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program. That is a decision the President has to make. I can't confirm or deny it. The President was not confirming or denying.

Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story, simply to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day. While there was -- part of it said 51 percent of the American people opposed, if you look at when people said, if there is a roster of phone numbers, do you feel comfortable that -- I'm paraphrasing and I apologize -- but something like 64 percent of the polling was not troubled by it. Having said that, I don't want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program -- the alleged program -- the existence of which I can neither confirm nor deny.

Let me also be clear here that I think that the brouhaha over this is stupid and ridiculous. I have my problems with Tony Snow, particularly with the fact that during the last month or two of his radio show he seemed to be taking the same pro-amnesty, immigration-expansionist [i.e. the opposite of restrictionist] position as Bush, and with his cheerleading of the Iraq War, but I am not going to attack him for such an innocuous comment.

This is a ridiculous thing to have a controversy over. I have simply noted it because I wanted to be one of the first ones to note that he had made a comment that would cause a controversy.

I heard Tony Snow mention the term "tar-baby" in his recent press conference.

The term refers to an "Uncle Remus" story, where B'rer (Brother) Rabbit attacks a little doll made of tar for not saying "hello," to him, and winds up getting stuck (the doll was a trap by B'rer Fox).

There is presumably a racial overtone to the term Presumably the term can be used as a racial epithet (although it is obvious that Mr. Snow was not using the term in such a way) as it is obvious that the "tar-baby" would be seen as black. I do recall a Saturday Night Live skit with Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase which seemed to give the impression that it was used as racial epithet, although I have never heard it used that way in any other setting.

In any case, I bring this up because I suspect that Tony Snow's use of the term may upset some people, and if there is a controversy, I want to be one of the first people to have noticed it (or to have noted the possibility of such a controversy arising). I won't predict that there will be a controversy though, because I do not know if there will be one.

UPDATE: The controversy has begun! Also see here, here, here, here, and here.

That is all.

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