George Allen: Not Ready for Prime Time

The conservative side of the blogosphere hasn’t followed the story much, but Virginia Senator George Allen may have sunk his presidential aspirations earlier this month by using an alleged racial slur while on the campaign trail for re-election. For those not following the story, Allen was campaigning in rural Virginia on August 11th when he spotted a 20-year old volunteer for opponent James Webb’s campaign videotaping the proceedings. Allen pointed out the young man, S.R. Sidarth, to the audience and asked them to welcome “this fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is” to “America and the real world of Virginia.” Sidarth is of Indian ancestry, but was born and raised in Virginia. The offending clip can be found on YouTube.

Now I’d never heard the term before, but depending on whom you ask, the word Allen used is also a racial slur the French use against dark-skinned persons of North African heritage. Allen’s campaign has offered conflicting explanations for what Allen said, saying first that Allen wanted to say “mohawk” because of Sidarth’s hairstyle, and later amending that remark to say he was combining mohawk and the Spanish caca, so he was calling Sidarth a, um, craphead. Nevertheless, they have been apologizing profusely since.

Regardless of what he was trying to say, I have to wonder why Allen bothered to point out the young man at all. Following your opponent with a camera hoping for embarrassing footage is rather low on the campaign theatrics scale. In fact, it’s standard operating procedure. Allen said he was trying to point out that Jim Webb had never been to that part of the state. But is making an example of a 20-year old volunteer the best way to do that? He shouldn’t even have acknowledged Sidarth, or at most, given him a wink and a nod on the way out just to say “Yeah, I know you’re here.” Did the guy really bother Allen that much? You need a thicker skin than that to run for the White House.

Allen’s people have to know that his opponents are trying to peg him as a racist, both here in Virginia and for the 2008 presidential race. The New Republic, for example, had articles in two issues this past May about Allen’s fascination with the confederate flag (ptui!). They also obviously knew Sidarth was following them around with a camera, hoping for an embarrassing video. But they still allowed Allen to hand their opponent a racial incident on a silver platter.

Allen is not going to lose the Senate race in Virginia. He’s too popular and has too much history with the residents of this state. As they say, however, the internet doesn’t forget. And with less than two years to go before the 2008 presidential primary season, the conservative movement might be better served by looking elsewhere.

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