I was not at all surprised to hear last week of the Montana Republican who wants to challenge for Jon Tester’s US Senate seat in 2012, openly admitting his past ties to the Ku Klux Klan. In fact, he admitted, with Barack Obama in the White House, people seem to be coming forward more in admitting their racial concerns.
Well, there you have it, officially: Racism is the new black in fashion politics. Actually, it has been since January 2009, when the President was inaugurated. Only, it’s progressed (or regressed) from being not-so-cleverly disguised behind accusations of socialism or communism or even fascism on the Right to incessant criticism about policy, words said or unsaid, adamant instructions of what exactly this President should be doing, to overt comparisons with Bush as the ultimate insult coming from the extreme Left, to obvious race-baiting, dog whistles and euphemistic references to “old-time days that aren’t forgotten” in the lead up to the next electoral cycle.
Indeed, one of the biggest, identifiable racists in recent years is back on the campaign trail. George Allen is attempting to win back his Virginia Senate seat, which he lost to James Webb in 2006. Allen, you’ll recall, went from hero to zero on the strength of his call-out to a Webb supporter standing in the crowd during one of his speeches.
Later, Allen tried to walk back his remarks, first saying “macaca” was a word he’d actually made up. Still later, he admitted he’d learned the word, as a child, from his mother. Thereafter, information emerged, drip by drip, like Chinese water torture, of other less salubrious titbits about Allen, relating to his macaca moment outing – how he’d regularly drive around his Southern California neighbourhood with a Confederate flag decal on the back of his car and how he displayed a noose – as a joke, you understand – in his office, along with – yes – another Confederate flag.
Allen’s family wasn’t Southern and had no known Southern connections. Indeed, Allen’s mother, he later disclosed, was a Jew of North African descent. His father worked in an industry which, even in the early and late Sixties, was far more racially integrated than any other business type of the time – professional football.
All of that doesn’t belie the fact that George Allen certainly displayed racist tendencies, to the point that, on the campaign trail, he made a pointedly racist remark about a supporter of his opponent, to that supporter’s face.
Needless to say, and quite rightly, he lost that election.
Now, six years later, he’s back and running again for the GOP nomination. It reveals a sad state of Republican affairs in the Commonwealth when Allen’s opponents for the Republican nod are a Tea Partier and a State politician who advocates Virginia minting its own currency and who manages to make Pat Buchanan look like a Progressive. In the world of the Republican blind, the one-eyed George Allen is king, at least in Virginia.
But Allen, like everyone in the Republican party, is a Christian, who believes in forgiveness and atonement. (Actually, Eric Cantor is Jewish, but I expect at any moment, he’ll attend a snake-charming Holy Roller event, speak in tongues and declare himself a Jew for Jesus, especially if it buys him the votes). Anyway, Allen is a Christian and a Republican, and mindful of the fact that he might need a few swing votes, or that some of the people who remember his macaca moment just might have been particularly horrified by its intent and its content, he chose to attend that branch of the Republican Party at Prayer, otherwise known as the Faith and Freedom Coalition, to make good his contrition. In short, six years after the fact, he apologised:-
All well and good, but not good enough. It’s craven that he could only bring himself to render an apology when it served a purpose to advance his ambitions: Allen is running for the Senate against the high-profiled Tim Kaine. It’s even more craven that he couldn’t endeavour to contact S R Sidarth, the person at whom he leveled this perfidious piece of ad hominem, directly and apologise in person. It would have been notable, had he done that sooner, rather than later, and had used his six years away from public service to connect with the growing minority population of the Commonwealth – African Americans, Latinos, and Asians.
Instead, he chooses to level his apology, not to Sidarth, the victim, or the minority population of Virginia as a whole, but to the Republican-packed Faith and Freedom Coalition, just so they could cleave him to their collective bosom and pronounce him saved and whole. And please note, as well, how Allen managed to turn this act of contrition into one wherein he emerges as the victim. His family were targeted and suffered immensely from remarks and verbal attacks brought about by the inadvertant slip of his tongue which revealed exactly what he was and is: a racist.
George Allen came to the Commonwealth as a young man to finish his education. He came, Californian-born and bred, because his father had accepted a lucrative job offer in the DC area. He transferred from UCLA to the University of Virginia, at a time when that institution was undergoing its greatest transition from what Faulkner referred to as the all-male “country club of the South” and the “last vestibule of Southern decadence” into vibrant academic community of racial and gender diversity. At the time of Allen’s sojourn as a student there, Melissa Harris-Perry’s father was Dean of African American Studies.
Allen was accepted on the strength of his having been a third-string quarterback at UCLA. He captained a football team, which lost every game with him at the helm and whose games students attended with the express intention of getting drunk. He played with white players and with African American players. People who knew him in those days said he used the n-word regularly. I remember him as someone whose presence about the Grounds oozed privilege, entitlement and arrogance.
Virginia is a state with a stained heritage of having been the capitol of the Confederacy. It lives with the ghost of Robert E Lee and houses a university and law school which bears his name. It is not something of which most Virginians are proud, but they live with this and have moved on from it. I cannot speak for the United Daughters of the Confederacy or for the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. I have never belonged to the UDC, nor have I ever wanted to belong. I think I’m right in saying that, for most Virginians, certainly those of the Democratic persuasion who remember Jim Crow and the end of segregation, for those of us who’ve remained Democratic and liberal (and there are many of us, still, in the Commonwealth), the Civil War ended in 1865. We lost, and we’re over that.
However many times he apologises, and – indeed – he can go on apologising every day on the campaign trail until Election Day, it won’t erase what was said; nor should the pithy, self-pitying and opportune apology convince anyone that a genuine epiphany has occurred in his life. George Allen, quite simply, is awfully sorry for having called S R Sidarth a “macaca.” He’s awfully sorry that the moment was caught on film and that it was actually his true colours which were revealed.
In a sane world, there would be no contest in this election. In a sane world, Virginians would queue up to vote for Tim Kaine. In a sane world, George Allen’s political career would be over, and the Virginia GOP would not even entertain such a candidate for such an office.
But this isn’t a sane world anymore. Not in Virginia, and certainly not in the United States at the moment.