In 2006 I wrote the first of many posts here on SM about then would-be Virginia Senator George Allen and his use of the term “Macaca” to describe S.R. Sidarth, a young volunteer for the current Senator Webb’s campaign who followed and documented his opponent’s public gatherings (a very common practice now). All the main players involved are probably happy to bury the Macaca Incident. Allen certainly wants to forget about it given that he running again. The “macaca moment” is widely credited for sinking his first political career and haunts him in every article about him still. When I met S.R. Sidarth at the Democratic National Convention in 2008 I was told by others that he doesn’t like talking about the incident either and wanted to move on. Given that Webb is not running for re-election it doesn’t hurt him to move on either.
But George Allen is working hard to resurrect his career and win office again. We pick up the story at the annual Shad Planking in the Real Virginia:
As the front-runner in the GOP nominating contest to succeed retiring Sen. James Webb (D), former senator George Allen swamped his opponents at the annual Shad Planking festival, offering more of everything: signs, stickers, hats, volunteers and — crucially, given the hot, sticky weather — cold beer.
Jamie Radtke, Allen’s best-known foe and former head of the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots, went to the Wakefield Ruritan Club southeast of Richmond with a smaller financial war chest but armed with an argument — that Allen isn’t conservative enough to deserve the Republican nomination — that she hopes will be enough to fuel an upset.
“People are looking for an alternative. They really are,” Radtke said.
Radtke’s booth at the gathering featured a large sign contrasting her views with Allen’s record in the Senate — including votes to raise the debt ceiling and for the No Child Left Behind law. [Link]
p>The winner will meet Kaine. I still believe that if not for the Macaca moment the 2008 election would have been Allen vs. Obama and that contest would have been much closer. I also believe that times have changed and Allen might not be nutty enough for the Republican base this time around. But I also want to go back to the title of my post from five years ago. What did Allen think “macaca” meant when he used the term? We may never know for sure but Slate’s Chris Wilson pointed out on Tuesday that what we think he meant was largely influenced by Wikipedia:
Before Allen said “macaca,” it had no entry on Wikipedia. That was corrected the day after the first stories were published, when a frequent contributor to the user-edited encyclopedia posted a short definition:
Macaca (also spelled Macaque) is a dismissive epithet used by Francophone colonials in Africa for native populations of North and Subsaharan Africans, similar to the British “wog”, or US “gook” or “haji”. Macaca is also a coded word used in the White Power Movement to refer to people of African descent.
The article was edited 37 times in the first day, but the closest anyone came to disputing the word’s use as a slur was to slap a “” stamp on the sentence above. Meanwhile, journalists and bloggers were desperately searching for evidence that it was in fact a slur and that Allen knew it, even subconsciously. (Allen’s mother was born to Jewish parents in Tunisia back when the country was a French protectorate.) There were some tantalizing hints, such as traces of the word on white supremacist websites and scattered references in Colonial African literature, but no smoking gun. George Allen had clearly crossed a line by implying that Sidarth was a new arrival to America. (Sidarth was born in Virginia.) Whether he had committed the far graver offense of using a racial epithet–or even knowingly calling him a monkey–was very difficult to determine. [Link]
I don’t doubt Allen’s dishonorable intent behind using what I still see as a slur and there were plenty of other solid anecdotes about his racial views. However, I am struck by this great example of reality being dictated by who controls the facts…first.