The Allen Flap
I came home from the Nats game last night to find the Virginia blogosphere burning brightly over Senator Allen’s remarks to one of my neighbors, S.R.Â Sidarth, a fine young Virginian that we all can be proud of.Â I’ve been an Allen supporter despite my personal admiration for Jim Webb and I’ve had trouble putting the event in a context that makes sense.Â Â My first reaction was that everything depends on what “Macaca” is supposed to mean.Â (Calling Mr. Chomsky,Â calling Mr. Chomsky . . . where are those damned semanticists and semioticians when you really need them).
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Was it just a nonsense word, or was Senator Allenâ€™s well-hidden command of vernacular North African FrenchÂ surging into the openÂ at a gathering down in Breaks? Â (I speak French reasonably well, sometimes dream in that language, but it usually doesnâ€™t come jumping out of myÂ mouth when Iâ€™mÂ wandering around in Southwest Virginia, and Iâ€™m no politician).Â Â So I have to discount Â pretty thoroughly the notion that the Senator chose that moment to unleash a racist slur in another language.Â I think we can put that one aside forever andÂ hope the lefties who are in paroxysms ofÂ newly found interest in Tunisian French and primate zoology just burn themselves out on this.
But, unhappily, the problem doesnâ€™t really go awayÂ when we rule out a direct racial epithet.Â I remembering noticing that when Iâ€™m in countries with a lot of ethnic strife, thereâ€™s aÂ tendency to refer to the Other Guy by some common name that is neutral in itself, but really can be offensiveÂ and demeaning when repeatedly applied.Â In Israel, Israelis inÂ forward settlementsÂ sometimes refer to Palestinians as â€œAhmed.â€Â Iâ€™ve heard Anglo-Americans refer to Latinos as â€œPedro.â€Â We all remember Jesse Jacksonâ€™s reference to â€œHymies.â€Â Iâ€™ve heard known racist white Americans refer to blacks collectively byÂ first names that I wonâ€™t repeat here because, and hereâ€™s where Iâ€™m going with this, you know damn well that thereâ€™s a racist-type grouping going on in the mind of the speaker.
Macaca doesnâ€™t seem to mean anything in particular.Â Its not even a common name in the Indian sub-continent (IfÂ Allen had called Mr. Sidarth â€œRajeshâ€ â€œMahondasâ€ orÂ â€Shashiâ€, I think there still would have been a lot of unhappiness).Â But those of us inclined to defend Allen because weâ€™re pretty darned sure he wasnâ€™t calling Sidarth a â€œmonkeyâ€, have to ask, â€œWhat was he trying to say?â€Â All he had to do was use the young manâ€™s real name and we wouldnâ€™t be having this conversation (well, weâ€™d still have that â€œWelcome to Americaâ€ stuff to deal with).
I think Allen was trying to say that this is a foreigner (he isnâ€™t, butÂ thatâ€™s still what the intent seems to have been).Â Iâ€™ll try to make him look silly to these Virginians of paler hue,Â go right into an anti-terrorist rif and then Webbâ€™s operative will leave an impression on the audience that Webb is tied toÂ foreigners.Â Thatâ€™s the only explanation I can come up with. Morgan Griffith is quoted in theÂ WaPo this morning as saying,â€Not many people in southwest VirginiaÂ would think it is derogatory.â€Â I suspect everyone present knew that the remark was intentionally derogatory on some level.Â You canâ€™t get around that.Â Â Â
Why would a politician do that?Â One reason is that, in segments of our party, it pays to do it.Â The recent history of the Republican Party, particularly in theÂ South, is that we have accepted, with far too littleÂ critical comment, an influxÂ of what wereÂ prior to the 60s and 70s, hard-core Democrats whose defining political impulse was fearÂ or dislike of persons not like themselves.Â Thatâ€™s why a seasoned politician like Trent Lott can make a slip praising Strom Thurmondâ€™s Dixiecrat candidacy.Â Â That element does us great harm and distracts from the real business of providing sound governance to all the people.Â We should have had some sort of assimilation program toÂ have that SouthernÂ Democratic heritage checked at the door before it got into our councils.Â AllenÂ falls into the trap when he plays, consciously or sub-consciously, to what he thinks are the sentiments of the audience in Soutwest Virginia.Â Itâ€™s a commentary on us that he wouldÂ do this without pause or hesitation.Â He ought to know better.Â
How do we get away from this?Â By speaking out forcefully whenever it raises its ugly, corrosive, anti-American, anti-Republican face in our midst and letting our own pols know that Republicans wonâ€™t stand for it.
Will I vote for Allen, now?Â Probably.Â I think Webb is in a serious mess as a Republican-turned-DemocratÂ largely over one issue, however important that issue may be.Â Webb is a Republican in his inclinations and the Dems will never let him get near a position of influence.Â I donâ€™t see how he could be effective.Â But Iâ€™m not happy about this Allen gaffeÂ because it is revealing of things we all ought to go to the ramparts to disapprove and decry.Â Iâ€™ll have to think again about my vote.Â At a minimum, it diminished Mr. Allen, not just subjectively, but in absolute terms.Â Â My hope is that the incidentÂ focusses Republicans on theÂ absolute necessity of putting this sort ofÂ rhetorical nastiness away from the Party forever.Â Â That would be a huge win for us.Â Â Â Â Â Â