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Political survivor

"Political survivor" Continued...

Issue: "Street theater," Sept. 30, 2006

Allen actually had a pretty credible defense for what he said. No one-including The Washington Post, which featured the story repeatedly for several weeks-ever demonstrated that "macaca" really has such murky racial connotations in any language. But in northern Italy, where Allen's mother had close family connections, "macaca" does seem to mean "clown" or "buffoon." Allen says now that's what he was trying to communicate.

Kay Coles James, a well-known African-American who was a member of Allen's cabinet when he was governor of Virginia, believes him totally. She told WORLD she's puzzled about where Allen came up with the term-but insists that to charge the senator with any sort of racism is to ignore his whole record and who he is personally. And Benjamin J. Lambert III, a senior black Democratic member of the Virginia Senate, agrees, and last week crossed party lines to give Allen his public endorsement.

Some Virginia Republicans who have worked with Allen in earlier campaigns remember his demonstrating "a slightly mean streak" from time to time, especially when he was stressed, and they think that's what happened in the "macaca" putdown. But all were careful to distinguish the event from anything with racial connotations.

Allen faces some angry voters all apart from the "macaca" episode. Virginia may have moved in recent years toward a GOP inclination after generations of lining up solidly behind Democrats-but its voters are still up for grabs. Democrats have won the governorship twice since Allen left office in 1998. And David McKinney, reference librarian at Shenandoah University where Allen spoke briefly at the rally just outside Winchester, is outspoken. Wearing a Webb sticker on his blazer, McKinney told WORLD Allen must be defeated because "he just agrees too damn much with George W. Bush." It was a sobering picture of what Republicans face nationwide this fall.

But maybe the bigger danger for Allen is that bloc of voters who have lost their enthusiasm. They don't blame Allen; indeed, they don't think he's getting a fair deal. But neither has he energized them for the fray. "The media circus after the 'macaca' event," said Dan Carrell, an attorney from Richmond and a former Republican state party official, "is exactly why so many of us have tuned out of politics."

Carrell told WORLD that the fact that "an episode like that can fill the media for days on end while they ignore so many issues of substance-and that the whole race might in the end hinge on that-well, that's pretty disheartening."

Disheartened voters, both in Virginia and throughout the country, may well be the bloc to watch on Nov. 7. The challenge for George Allen and his colleagues, one more time, is to see if they can give their backers something worth fighting for.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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