Asked Friday if he would commit to guaranteeing fathers equal access to children in divorce cases, John McCain responded: “For me to stand here before all these people and say I’m going to declare divorce cases invalid because someone feels they weren’t treated fairly in court, we are getting into a tar baby of enormous proportions.”
He caught some heat for that one. And not because he was dismissing the emotions of disenfranchised fathers, either. Instead, some took offense because the man correctly used the term “tar baby” – meaning a situation that is made worse with each attempt to solve it – coined by author Joel Chandler Harris. The “tar baby” in the story is a doll covered in tar. Tar is not employed for its color, but rather for its sticky nature, necessary for the ensnarement of Brer Rabbit.
After the town hall meeting, McCain told reporters he hoped the word was not viewed as a racial epithet, and then immediately apologized. “I don’t think I should have used that word and I was wrong to do it.”
Talk about a spineless flip-flopper! I am sure Brit Hume and George Will noticed this, but probably decided Barack Obama’s “blackness” or Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit proved better topics.
Why did McCain back down from this? Why did he not say, “I’m not racist; I was simply making an allusion to folksy American literature”? The reality of the situation is those who were offended are simply unaware. Realizing a large portion of the American citizenry is unaware of certain words and their connotations, I would like to present some hypothetical quotes McCain should avoid making in the future.
In a pet store, to show voters he cares about small businesses, and is also an animal lover: “Polly want a cracker?” White people everywhere will get upset at McCain’s blatant racial slur, and his attempt to feed Caucasians to a parrot.
Describing Kim Jong-Il’s willingness to finally sit down and make a unilateral agreement to stop his nuclear program: “This is a win-win for all parties involved; in no way is this a chink in Mr. Jong-Il’s armor.” Chinese-Americans will be angered by the sleight about their body size, and McCain’s suggestion they are small enough to hide inside Jong-Il’s bulletproof vest.
At Oktoberfest, to show he approves of cultural celebrations: “I love a good bratwurst, but I’ve never much cared for sauerkraut. I don’t much care for the way it smells.” German-Americans would be offended for being called smelly.
Playing Super Mario Brothers, on the original Nintendo, to show younger people he is hip, but to show older people he is still old-school: “You know, I have always thought the goombahs made this game a little too hard. If the goombahs weren’t here, I would have a heck of a lot less problems.” Italian-Americans would riot in the streets, protesting McCain’s suggestion they leave America.
At least McCain already has a prepared statement for each of these situations: “I don’t think I should have used that word and I was wrong to do it.”
There are other words, too, that may sound racist, but have nothing to do with racism. Niggardly sounds a lot like the Voldemort-esque “Word-Which-Must-Not-Be-Said,” but it really just means stingy. And the two words are derived from different languages, anyway. Macaca might be a species of monkey and offensive to Indians, but it also might just be a child’s way of saying “excrement.”
No rational person honestly believes John McCain is a racist. This is merely an attempt to take certain words out of use, words that are not slurs in any sense but carry the sound and perception of slurs. But when does it stop? Who gets to say what words should and should not be allowed?
I may be liberal, but I am strictly conservative when it comes to our fundamental rights, one of which is freedom of speech. I will defend any person who comes under fire for merely expressing an idea, regardless of its political correctness or perceived lack-thereof. And I will stand up to those who argue certain words and certain ideas are so dangerous they must be outlawed.
Ryan Speaker is a senior history major. His column appears every Wednesday in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.