Mitt is not Mel

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

Through the rose-colored lens of naivety it is easy to see the line of demarcation separating political correctness from incorrectness. But life is not so absolute. It is quite possible that one can find him or herself in the land of the politically incorrect with ignorance serving as the lead guide.

Massachusetts Governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently found himself retreating to the safe confines of political correctness after telling an audience at a political event: "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."

Overcome by emotion the PC police were immediately out in force demanding the Romney issue an apology for his obvious racial slur.

"'Tar baby' is a totally inappropriate phrase in the 21st century," said Larry Jones, a black Republican and civil rights activist, according to the Associated Press. Adding, "He thinks he's presidential timber... But all he's shown us is arrogance."

Romney has subsequently apologized for the remark. But was it as politically incorrect as Mr. Jones suggests? Moreover do the words alone make it racist?

For those not living in the Bay State, the Big Dig tunnels became news after Milena Del Valle, a 39-year-old Boston resident, was killed when 12 tons of ceiling panels fell on her car. As with most things that involve elected officials the matter has become political. Thus, Romney's "tar baby" description was in reference to the sticky situation that he now finds himself.

As for tar baby, it carries several definitions. Among its myriad meanings include: A situation or problem from which it is virtually impossible to disentangle oneself as well as a derogatory term referring to African Americans.

Here is where the antiquated skill known as critical thinking might come in handy. In Romney's case was he referring to the former or latter definition? If you, like me, conclude the former then the whole tar baby escapade is much ado about nothing.

I could better understand the outcry if referring to African Americans, Romney said, "I want to get as far away from those tar babies as I possibly can." That might be cause for an uproar.

I recall several years ago when David Howard, an aide to Washington DC mayor, Anthony Williams was forced to resign for suggesting: "I will have to be niggardly with this fund because it's going to be a lot of money."

Niggardly, which as no relation to the N-word, is someone who spends grudgingly. Needless to say, Mr. Howard's perceived use of the N-word offended the mayor's African American staff, naturally calling for his immediate resignation. I wrote at the time that Howard was guilty of nothing more than poor word choice, but should not have lost his job.

Shouldn't intent count for something? It is a far cry from young African Americans using the N-word among themselves as a term of endearment opposed to the word piercing from the lips of former Birmingham Police Commissioner Eugene "Bull" Connor during the Civil Rights Movement. I won't argue that it is a legitimate issue to debate as to whether or not young people of all races have become too cavalier with the N-word, but intent does count for something.

Or that of Mel Gibson's recent intoxicated tirade in which he reportedly said, "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Is Romney on par with Vice President Dick Cheney who reportedly told Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy on the senate floor using an expletive that Leahy should have intercourse with himself? Where were the PC police on that one?

There is fine line between challenging someone when they are indeed politically incorrect or making something an issue for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. Should any of us be held to such a high standard that we must not only be politically correct, but equally accountable for the ignorance of our accuser?