Recent remarks by Virginia Senator George Allen may not have broken any bones but they surely bruised the tender sensibilities of some liberal operatives and their media counterparts. His videotaped comments to S.R. Sidarth, an Indian-American college student working for his Senate opponent's campaign, and the reaction to them just might be an opening volley in the 2008 presidential campaign.
Conventional wisdom has it that Allen's oral use of the word "macaca" -- the preferred spelling of which has lead to all sorts of nefarious definitions -- adds up to one conclusion: racism. Typical was a Washington Post piece by Eugene Robinson which claimed that Allen "instinctively or subconsciously believed that drawing a line between his white audience and the darker, foreign-looking Sidarth was at that moment good politics."
But this racism-as-a-political-tool theorem seems to operate in only one direction; to the right. It does not include, for example, Delaware senator Joseph Biden's singular way of campaigning for the Indian vote in New Hampshire last month which was also caught on tape and aired on C-SPAN:
In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian-Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.
But Hillary Clinton apparently was joking when, after quoting Mahatma Gandhi at a fundraiser in Missouri, she cracked unwisely, "He ran a gas station down in St. Louis." Mrs. Clinton did apologize and although her comments were given press coverage, most of the headlines trumpeted only the apology and failed to scold her for the original joke itself. Not so when Republicans do the gaffing.
And Allen did commit a blunder, no doubt. But the reason is more likely political than racial. Were he and his staff having a little fun at Mr. Sidarth's expense? Probably. The modern practice of having an opponent shadowed out on the hustings -- one which Allen's team also employs -- is bound to lead to such scenarios. Gone are the days when a candidate could relax and rub elbows with the party faithful unencumbered by vexing video eyes. But were there racial overtones? Here are his remarks in their entirety:
My friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas. And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something. This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt; Macaca or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent, he's following us around everywhere and it's just great.
We're going to places all over Virginia and he's having it on film. And it's great to have you here. And you show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come. So it's good for you to see what it's like in the real world, rather than living inside the beltway. His opponent actually right now is with a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls. We care about fact not fiction. So welcome, let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.
So Mr. Allen fudged the man's name in a juvenile way. Hardly the sinister affront portrayed by the out-of-context excerpts published in the press. The sad thing is that Allen felt he had to make the compulsory apology to the allegedly aggrieved constituency. As are most apologies made by those who've done nothing really wrong, Allen's mea culpa was almost as silly as the original accusation itself, and the press ate it up.
But you have to give the media credit. They see that Allen may, in all probability, be the GOP choice in 2008, and the fear and loathing they have for him is actually a form of respect. The fact that he's the only real conservative who has a chance at winning the nod is cause enough for trepidation, but it goes beyond that; you know, the cowboy image and all.
Two other recent Republican presidential candidates were also unashamedly un-nuanced, cowboy-types who shared Allen's easygoing style, and they managed to win four terms between them. This is what drives liberals to distraction: despite the occasional social slip-up, the great unwashed seem to prefer this type of man to hold the nation's reins. Welcome to America.
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