Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Allen defense: I blame the press for my not knowing that I had called him a monkey

This is what I have always cherished about politicians: Whenever they screw up and embarrass themselves, they try to blame it on the media.

The latest is George Allen, the Republican senator from Virginia who is mapping an '08 presidential bid (see last Friday's post). His contribution to the art of scapegoating goes something like this: While stumping for re-election to the Senate the other day, he singles out a young guy in the overwhelmingly white crowd who is known to be working for his Democratic opponent. This guy, S.R. Sidarth, is dark-skinned, of Indian descent. Allen says, "This fellow here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca, or whatever his name is...Let's give a welcome to macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." It turns out that macaca is a common term for a type of monkey; alternatively, it's a common racial slur. Allen later protests that he doesn't know what the term meant. Allen is also informed that his "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia" was a tad off base -- given the fact that the guy he singled out was an American born in Virginia.

So what did Allen say about all that? In a statement released yesterday, he absolved himself, saying that his comments "have been greatly misunderstood by members of the media."

This incident isn't likely to sink Allen's re-election bid; he's far ahead of Democrat James Webb, and his aw-shucks Reaganesque style is popular with the conservative base in Virginia (as is media-bashing). And let us not forget that Democratic Sen. Joe Biden got in trouble recently for his quip about not being able to go into a 7-11 without hearing an Indian accent. But I've often heard that, politically speaking, George Allen is not the sharpest knife in the GOP drawer, and this macaca incident may well underscore that perception.

You can watch this incident, via YouTube (Allen's remarks were captured by Sidarth, who follows Allen around and records him -- a standard practice these days that all campaigns employ). The web posting, in itself, is noteworthy. Not too many years ago, political observers were saying that, because C-Span seemed to be everywhere on the campaign trail, there was no way anymore for candidates to screw up or misspeak or just have a bad day without the world knowing about it. But C-Span is horse and buggy technology when compared to the Internet. Candidates beware, there is no place left to hide.


On the other hand, even we folks in the dead-tree media sometimes manage to record some doozies. What follows is perhaps the most entertaining candidate exchange of the year (as well as fresh evidence that the quality of our political dialogue continues to degenerate), courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Last week, the paper covered a radio debate between former U.S. Attorney J. B. Van Hollen and a county district attorney named Paul Wucher. They're competing for the GOP nomination for state attorney general.

OK, gentlemen:

"Will you ever listen? That's why you suck, Paul, because you only listen to people who agree with you."

"I don't suck. I resent that."