I've been interested in Virginia Senator George Allen for awhile now. He was once thought by many to be the next Dubya -- he's the plain-taling son of a football coach who is a rabid conservative but who has the demeanor of some one you'd like to have a beer with. Basically, he's the type who could appeal to the Republican base without scaring the Republican fiscall conservatives and who could maybe even appeal to fiscally conservative Democrats who tend to either ignore the culture wars or who are willing to just cede that ground. Like I said, he's been considered another Dubya.
Allen used that phrase to describe a young, Indian supporter of his opponent, Democrat Jim Webb. It blew up in his face. It's a racist expression, after all, that traces back to French colonialism. It means "monkey."
First, he said he didn't know what it meant. Then, he was just kidding and had made up a word on the fly. It did seem like the kind of gaffe that would blow over.
But Ryan Lizza at The New Republic had already revealed that, in his youth, Allen had a thing for the Confederate flag. In light of Lizza's work, which also seemed unimportant at the time (so he was a doofus in his younger years, who wasn't?) Allen's excuses and evasions seemed to fall flat.
Now, former associates are coming forward and saying that Allen used to make frequent use of the N-word to describe his darker-skinned brethren, some of whom played for the Washington Redskins, a team that his father coached.
Worse, there's talk that Allen, a sport hunter, once put the severed head of a doe in the mailbox of an African American family. That talks is so far unconfirmed. But... it has legs if only because it fits the profile.
As all of this was going on, Allen's mother revealed that she's Jewish by heritage and that she hid the fact from her family, including her son. Seriously, had Allen known about the heritage of wit and comic timing that he'd inherited, he could have quashed that whole story with two words: "Oy vey." But, Allen serves as proof that despite all of the great Jewish comedians, joke writing can only be learned and isn't inherited. Instead, he said: "To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think it's relevant. So I'd like to ask you, why is that relevant?" As if he were trying to defend something.
Is George Allen a racist or anti-Semite? Much as I loathe him politically, I'm going to take him at his word and assume that he isn't. But, it's 2006 and he doesn't even know how to talk about race. That makes him unfit for the Senate. We've been talking about these issues for two centuries now. Only the dimmest among us, or the least sensitive, have failed to learn the language.
This might seem a trivial topic, in light of tonight's Senate vote that has been sold as a compromise but that actually sanctions torture... but it isn't really light. Challenger Jim Webb now stands a real shot at unseating Allen, who is the better funded incumbent that some in his party saw as the next president. When Allen said the word "macaca," his whole facade of power was shattered. If Allen is defeated, and also effectively neutered as a possible presidential candidate, we're all better off. But, it is interesting to think about why and how this happened. If you agree with me that we can assume he's not really a racist, then you have to think that Allen failed as an observer of society. He couldn't grow enough in order to succeed in a culture that simmply demands more thoughtful and sensitive comments about race and religion.
Now... if he still manages to win... well... then we have to start seriously questioning just what it is that Virginia wants and what it is that its voters think and believe. That would be a very uncomfortable thing to have to ponder.