George Allen's lesson
November 9, 2006
There is a price for bigotry in America. Just ask Sen. George Allen.
His political career, once cruising toward a possible run for the presidency, took a tailspin after the mid-term election ejected him as the U.S. senator from Virginia.
Allen was infamously caught on tape on Aug. 11, calling S.R. Sidarth, a young man of East Indian descent, "macaca." Sidarth worked for Allen's opponent, incoming U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, and was filming Allen as he stumped with supporters in Virginia.
"Let's give a welcome to macaca, here," Allen famously uttered. "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
The comment blew up in Allen's face. It was bigotry thinly cloaked as humor. Allen probably thought he was in a safe area to talk like that and probably didn't expect the video to garner widespread attention.
"Macaca" is a racial epithet like "k---" or "n-----." Allen tried to deny he was using a epithet and then tried to say he didn't know what it meant.
It also didn't help Allen's case that Sidarth was born in Virginia, unlike Allen, who is a California kid.
Next were allegations from a former University of Virginia classmate of Allen that Allen used the "n-word" freely in the 1970s when they were in college. Allen, again, denied the charges. But Larry J. Sabato, a well-respected analyst of Virginia politics and a classmate of Allen's, confirmed the charges. Others came forward and confirmed it, as well.
Weeks and weeks of answering charges of racial and ethnic insensitivity wore down Allen and his supporters.
This experience should provide a warning to other politicians who want to continue to hang their hat on bigotry and intolerance.
Racism is still with us, but many Americans won't stomach it anymore.
Had Allen never made his "macaca" remark, it's unlikely anyone would have gone searching into his past for corroborating evidence of bigotry. He might be drinking champagne today and discussing the possibility of running for president in 2008.
Instead, he is looking for work.
Brian Gilmore is a lawyer and poet with two collections of poetry, including "Jungle Nights and Soda Fountain Rags: A Poem for Duke Ellington and the Duke Ellington Orchestra" (Karibu Books, 2000). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.