This article appeared in the June 2006 issue of The American Spectator, as its cover story. To subscribe, click here.
ASK GEORGE ALLEN IF HE’S RUNNING for president, and Virginia’s junior senator demurs like any politician facing re-election this year.
“When we get to the future, I’ll determine the future,” he told reporters recently.
But make no mistake — George F. Allen is running for president. Or he just happens especially to enjoy primary states. In March and April, he visited Iowa, New Hampshire, Texas, South Carolina, and North Carolina. He’s courting bigwigs at state party conventions, and throwing his name in the hat for presidential straw polls.
Facing two serious Democratic challengers while his re-election poll numbers hover around 50 percent, Senator Allen is wise to shy away from the presidential speculation. As he likes to quote his late father, Coach George H. Allen, “The future is now.” Yet barring a major fiasco, Virginia voters will re-elect their favorite adopted son.
But how will national voters take to Allen’s easy manner, cowboy boots, and reverence for Thomas Jefferson? Will Allen seem too Virginian, or just American enough for the White House?
A familiarity with George Allen explains his presidential contender status: notable biography, solid political record, and affable demeanor. His sway over Virginians was recently on display at an old school political ritual in the Tidewater area of Virginia: Shad Planking.
Marking the unofficial beginning of the Virginia campaign season each April, Shad Planking is best described as a political picnic. With a country-rock band in the background, attendees feast on shad, baked beans, coleslaw, and corn bread. Politicians present their best signs, handshakes, and beer. The band takes a break, and the politicians give speeches. It’s an unusual mix of fish, beer, and politics.
Yet George Allen barely makes it to the stage. He has attended Shad Planking for 25 years, since his days as a delegate to the General Assembly, and it shows. In his boots and a “Virginia” belt buckle, it takes him well over an hour to navigate the crowd.
And Allen has all the time in the world. He greets old friends from his career in politics. He reacts warmly when an older gentleman introduces himself as J.E.B. Stuart IV. “James Ewell Brown,” Allen beams. Stuart tells him, “Fifth and sixth are on the way.” Allen adjusts a man’s campaign sticker to where it’s visible and sends him off, “Thank you, my friend.” He spots a fellow wearing a bolo tie and tells him, “If you’re gonna wear a tie, that’s the tie to wear.”
The affection for Allen seems more personal than an attraction to celebrity. One woman greets Allen like an old friend. Rhonda Winfield met him a week earlier at a campaign stop, when she gave him her late son’s dog tags. L/Cpl. Jason Redifer died last year in Iraq when an IED detonated near his Humvee.
She hadn’t planned to hand the tags to Allen, but as she stood in line to meet him, “It dawned on me that he’s the epitome of the ideals and beliefs that my son gave his life for.”
EARLIER THAT MONTH, in George Allen’s Senate office, as he tells of growing up as the son of a Hall of Fame football coach, one imagines bull sessions stretching into the night. Allen’s an unstoppable storyteller once he gets started. And he’s on a tear: attending training camp with the Chicago Bears and breaking his jaw falling out of the bunk. Spending Christmastime in the South for bowl games as his father scouted college players. Learning the consequences of trying to fool Coach Allen by filling a bag with a basketball instead of weeds — weeding with a flashlight to finish the job.
He comes off as a Regular Guy. He eschews D.C. (would like to cede most of it back to Maryland), cell phones (“too much of a distraction”), and wingtips.
Now, he is fond of yard work (thanks, Dad): pulling weeds or mowing the lawn while listening to NASCAR or a football game. When his face lights up with excitement to talk about road trips, NASCAR, or football, it’s clear that these are his favorite subjects.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online