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Ruff achieves unwanted fame with ‘tar baby’ remark

South Boston News
Frank Ruff / March 24, 2014
State Sen. Frank Ruff, who represents the eastern portion of Halifax County in the General Assembly, found himself the latest political figure to go viral on the Internet this week.

Ruff catapulted out of relative obscurity to find himself in the headlines, thanks to reporting by the Associated Press and such prominent Internet news sites as The Huffington Post, Salon and Talking Points Memo.

The reason for the publicity? Ruff used the term “tar baby” to describe the proposed expansion of Medicaid in Virginia — a comment that prompted the African-American mayor of Danville to walk out on a talk by Ruff last week during a breakfast meeting of the Danville-Pittsylvania Chamber of Commerce.

Ruff’s use of the term — derided by some as offensive to blacks, but employed in the past by political figures ranging from John Kerry to Mitt Romney — was first reported by the Virginian Pilot. Ruff quickly apologized for the remark in a followup interview with Pilot reporter Julian Walker. He also apologized with an answering machine message for Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders, who walked out of the Chamber banquet.

Saunders acknowledged receipt of the call and expressed his appreciation for the apology.

Ruff, described by The Huffington Post as “embroiled in some controversy after a racially-charged comment he made against Medicaid expansion,” said in an interview this week that he was speaking “off the cuff” and used the term because he believes the Medicaid issue presents a sticky situation for state government.

“I meant nothing racial when I said those words,” Ruff said.

“When I used [the phrase], I was not thinking of anything other than the dictionary definition.”

The Urban Dictionary defines tar baby as a “short hand for a situation better avoided than confronted,” while the Oxford English Dictionary says tar baby is “a difficult problem that is only aggravated by attempts to solve it.”

The phrase originated with the 19th century Uncle Remus folklore stories, which later formed the basis for the 1946 Disney film, “Song of the South.” Told from the perspective of rural blacks living in post-Reconstruction South, the Uncle Remus stories have fallen out of favor as unwelcome reminders of life in the Jim Crow South.

Disney has taken the movie out of circulation and never released it on home video.

Debate continues on whether the phrase is racist. The center-left New Republic magazine, in a 2011 article by John McWhorter, an African-American professor at Columbia University, noted that “Tar baby, it seems, is an obscure slur, not even known to be so by a substantial proportion of the population.”

Ruff, an outspoken opponent of expanding Medicaid in Virginia, said he used the term to illustrate potential complexities with the program, a key part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

His efforts to lay the controversy to rest thus far have failed to placate several groups: the Virginia NAACP and the state Democratic Party have called on Ruff to issue a more formal apology.

Kevin Chandler of Halifax, vice-president of the Virginia Chapter of the NAACP, spoke at an NAACP meeting Thursday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church and said Ruff’s apologies haven’t gone far enough.

“I understand the senator called the mayor and apologized for what he said, but the apology needs to go beyond that,” Chandler said, according to a report by the Danville Register & Bee. “It needs to go to his constituents and the people who voted for him.”

Ruff is not the first public official to use the tar baby reference. During a 2008 interview, then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry said of comments made by fellow Sen. John McCain regarding Democratic candidate Barack Obama, “I think John is trying to throw that big tar baby out there. You want to lose, you don’t want to win. Of course Barack Obama wants America to be successful.”

Two years earlier, Massachusetts’ Gov. Mitt Romney, discussing the political risk associated with the state take over a Central Artery/Tunnel Project after part of the tunnel collapsed, said, “The best thing politically would be to stay as far away from that tar baby as I can.”

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Maybe Sen. Ruff should "try out" his words with someone before making them official. A true friend would have told him maybe saying those two words not a good idea! My cap off to Mr.Saunders to his reaction!


I have said this before and I will say it again. I am not specifically referring to this situation but to all situations. This has gotten to be the most thin skin politically correct society that I have ever seen. Every day there is something said by somebody that claims offense by someone else somewhere in the country. Gee whiz people man up. When you have to demand an apology from someone and they apologize, it means absolutely nothing. I am getting tired of reading, or hearing this crap in the media.


Interestingly, the Tar-Baby was a character in West African folklore, brought over to the Americas by enslaved Africans in their Spider Anansi stories. Even they used the Tar-Baby as a metaphor for a sticky situation made worse by intervention.

But, this is a nation of professionally offended people.

If a politician didn't put both feet in his mouth every so often we'd think something was awry. Looks like our locals have it down to an art.


I would say it would be a pretty damn sticky situation for anyone who got added to Medicaid or at least for their relatives after they are dead.
The real issue is the direct transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich when the states begin to recoup the costs. But lets not focus on what actually amounts to more than a pinch of gnat crap. Let's focus on the United States of the offended.


Wow, now we have the N word, the TB words and a ban on the word Bossy. I am now like Michelle Obama, I am ashamed of my country.


Enjoy your free Medicaid healthcare because when you die your family won't have one damn dime of your money to spend. The state will pry your possessions and money from your cold dead hands.


Poor Senator Ruff.Evidently his apology to his Lordship the Mayor of Danville wasn't good enough. Perhaps the NAACP can get either the Emperor of Black people(aka Jesse Jackson)or Reverend Al not-so-Sharpton to Danville for an "Impeach Frank" rally if he doesn't give a sincere apology and more importantly give us some money. At least he didn't use the word niggardly to describe the Republican's fears of what the Federal government could do to Medicaid funding. I'll venture to say that most of your staff and readers will have to look that one up to see if it's a racist word. Trust me, it's not.

Disney did release Song of the South back in the early 1980s on VHS. Those copies are collectors items.You can find a bootleg DVD if you look hard enough for one.



Perhaps it is time for Senator Ruff to resign. He just does not get it.


I think he should retire because he is a cruddy senator. He is about as liberal as they come and he basically loves the power and his job too much. He will bow down to anyone to keep his job even the race baiting Mayor of Danville. Ruff sucks!!!!! Get lost!!


"your family won't have one damn dime of your money to spend"

Which is precisely my plan. I have no intention of leaving them anything, because they'll blow thru it quicker than the guvmink ever thought about and then have nothing to show for it. There are plenty of worthy charities which will use it better.

I can't say much for any of Southside's representation in Richmond. Not Ruff, not Stanley, not Marshall, Adams or Edmunds- though to Edmunds' credit, he's not as disingenuous as the rest. Marshall and Stanley have been promising jobs for Southside forever- where are they? And it's obvious Adams will use his law background to advance extreme right social conservatism.

The Southside deserves better than what they have.


If Edmunds has brought 1 (one) job to Halifax County, other than his secretary, I don't know what it is. He fought all of the uranium jobs along with job killing Dunavant. Edmunds is just a RINO. He is about as conservative as Barack H. Obama.


For the ones that are not smart enough to know what a tar baby is, in this time and age of free knowledge should have sense enough to read and learn more. For the ones that do not care to know or what attention on theirselfs will make some kind of remake or action to take from the truth.
Doing right is never wrong. Being honest and trustworthy is the way to live. Perhaps a slight twist of the facts might bring a short term gain. A little misrepresentation might bring some short term satisfaction. But in the end truth always wins, so live like a winner. Who I know in this case is Frank Ruff. I have known Frank for a long time and I know for a fact that he is not racist.


The fact that News & Record believes this is news shows their lack of anything better to report. What about Harry Reid calling those who have had bad experiences with liars? What about Hillary's infamous "What difference does it make" quote? I don't find it coincidental that N&R is attacking a Republican representative. If Ruff were a Democrat, this article never would have surfaced here. If you're going to be biased, at least do it professionally with class.

Also, people who are so easily offended by such terms are not entirely to blame. They are the results of a social stigma perpetuated by Obama and his agenda. He wants them to feel sorry for themselves. He wants them to feel as if they've been wronged by others. Why? Because when these people feel hopeless and powerless, they turn to the person promising hope and change. A word of advice: stop feeling sorry for yourself. Obama isn't the solution to your problems regardless of how much he says otherwise.

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