The Current Crisis

Slur Politics

Another Clintonite 1990s goal comes a cropper.

By 9.28.06

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WASHINGTON -- It appears that another of the Clintons' 1990s goals has come a cropper, to wit, ending the "Politics of Personal Destruction." It is election time in the Great Republic, and that means that for a few months candidates for high office might be beset by charges that have never heretofore been an issue. If they do not respond to those charges with great adroitness, even deviousness, they might be defeated and perhaps spend the rest of their lives under a moral cloud.

Right now in Virginia Senator George Allen and his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb, are sweating through questions over whether they have at any time in their lives used the racial slur, "nigger." Never before has the matter been a vexed issue in either man's adult life. But for a few days, maybe a few weeks, they will fend off questions over whether they used the word. The impression left will be that they did; and, worse still, that America is a racially divided nation, perhaps even a racist nation. Actually, America has done more to eliminate racism and racial animosity than any multi-racial country on earth. Here again an American political campaign does not clarify issues but rather spreads misinformation about the country, all very useful to our enemies, many of whom are vehement racists and religious bigots.

The other day Webb was prevailed upon to say: "I don't think there's anyone who grew up around the South that hasn't had the word pass through their lips at one time or another in their life." Well, that sounds perfectly sensible to me, and I do not think Webb had to limit his reference to the South. The real question is, what was the intent of the speaker, and does he harbor bigoted thoughts? Yet, here is the response from the Associated Press: "Democratic Senate Challenger Jim Webb declined to say definitively Tuesday whether he had ever used a common derogatory word to define blacks." Maybe there is some journalistic convention forcing this obtuse response, but as far as I can see the AP's response is a nonsense. Webb is not a bigot, and race as an issue in Virginia politics is dead.

What we see here is the creation of a false issue working towards "the politics of personal destruction." Senator George Allen after nearly a quarter century of public service unblemished by racist behavior and distinguished by service to all races, is now belabored with charges from remote figures he knew three decades ago that as a youth he used racial slurs. Oh yes, and he publicly used an obscure word, "macaca," with no relevance to American rhetoric that happens to be a slur in some faraway land. Finally his mother, a Holocaust victim who kept the experience quiet perhaps even from her children, is Jewish and apparently through the years Allen should have talked about it. As candidates in recent years, John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton discovered Jewish roots in their families and that was good for them. Allen's recent discovery is supposedly bad for him. Here is another example of liberals having one set of rules for themselves and another set for conservatives.

Friends of Allen and teammates from the University of Virginia football teams of the early 1970s are now lining up to say that Allen never used racist terms. Black ministers from Virginia churches are now defending him. "We're standing for his character and for his integrity," the Rev. Martin Brown is quoted as saying, "We should be focusing on the issues instead of focusing on character assassination." Yes, that is true, but what can we do for Allen's aged mother?

She is the most deeply injured party in this controversy and now she is a victim of crude politics on both sides of the Atlantic. During World War II she was a French Tunisian Jew who suffered first-hand from the Holocaust. Her father was arrested by Nazis and put in a concentration camp. Her family survived, and she came to America but was so badly traumatized by the racial and religious hate she had experienced that here she was reticent about her Jewishness. How was she to know that America was not as capable of turning against a Jew as Nazi Europe had been? Children of Holocaust survivors tell me their parents too lived with such fear. All were secondary and tertiary victims of Nazi evil. Mrs. Allen's security has again been invaded by politics. One hopes that this time she recognizes that in America her physical safety is secure, if not her personal feelings.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.