Three years after seeing his presidential dreams dashed by a rash, three-syllable slur, George Allen, who occasionally insists on wearing full cowboy regalia, is reportedly back in the saddle.
Perhaps you don’t remember Allen. Despite a decades-long career in public office—first as a congressman, then as the governor of Virginia and then as a senator—you’ll most likely recall Allen as the man who, at a campaign stop in rural Virginia, was videotaped calling an Indian American worker from his opponent Jim Webb’s campaign a “macaca,” a French slur translating to “monkey.” Large, powerful and possessed of the same kind of rich kid, good ol’ boy sneer for which W became infamous, Allen’s bullying of the young minority quickly became a media and Internet firestorm, turning off moderate voters and turning the tides of his reelection campaign.
Soon, more damning stories from Allen’s past bubbled to the surface: Despite being from California, he had a strange affinity for the Confederate flag; a decorative noose once adorned a small tree in his Charlotesville law office; former football teammates alleged Allen, the son of a revered, former Washington Redskins head coach, used to casually use the word “nigger.” Before America’s eyes, Allen went from charismatic Southern gent to privileged racist, and in November 2006, Webb took Allen’s Senate seat from him.
After almost three years to the day of “Macaca-gate,” the Washington Post on Friday profiled an ostensibly new and improved Allen. Now the founding head of a conservative think tank, the American Energy Freedom Center, Allen still claims he had no idea “macaca” was a slur (despite having a francophone mother from a nation in which the pejorative is used), but he will admit that he made a mistake: “I should not have called him anything aside from ‘the fellow in the yellow shirt.’ … It was a mistake.”
Infinitely more interesting–yet just as predictable–is the revelation that Allen is considering another foray into the political sphere, though he won’t declare just what office he’s eying.
Don’t call it a comeback: Allen’s ready for his return, but are we, the people formerly known as macaca?
Dozens of publicized apologies later, perhaps it is time to forgive George Allen for his macaca misstep—forgiveness is a virtue, after all. That said, what we should never do is forget several of Allen’s more questionable political decisions, most of which speak much louder than one Tunisian slur.
To start, while still just a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in 1984, Allen, who used to display a Confederate flag in his living room, opposed the creation of a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Nine years later, as Virginia’s governor, Allen would instead throw his support behind a decidedly different commemoration: Confederate History Month.
Under Allen, Virginia also saw an expansion of its death penalty laws, despite the fact that it was already executing more criminals—a disproportionate number of whom were black—than almost every other state in the union. Governor Allen then issued an executive order allowing victims’ families to watch the executions. (It’s these facts that make the noose in Allen’s office truly disturbing.)
African Americans not in jail have likewise been subjected to Allen’s prejudiced political maneuvers. In 1995, Governor Allen, a noted ally of white supremacist group the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), appointed another CCC sympathizer to two state positions, one of which was on the tellingly named Governor’s Advisory Council on Self-Determination and Federalism. In a damning 2006 article, The Nation elaborated on the group:
Allen’s Advisory Council on Self-Determination and Federalism bore an eerie resemblance to the Virginia Commission on Constitutional Government, a state agency that engaged in lobbying and propaganda in support of “massive resistance” to integration. One typical pamphlet published by the Commission declared, “We do not propose to defend racial discrimination. We do defend, with all the power at our command, the citizen’s right to discriminate.”
Like others, I’m inclined to believe that George Allen is sorry for calling that young man a monkey in 2006. Nevertheless, I can’t be sure that means he’s not a racist.