George Allen Apologizes

Nearly two weeks after referring to his opponent’s cameraman as “Macaca,” Senator George Allen has personally apologized to the UVA student.

An obscure word played for laughs from a mostly white crowd at the expense of a man of Indian descent clouds what has been a bright political career for Sen. George Allen, including any White House plans. The Republican, seeking a second term as he explores a 2008 presidential run, apologized directly Wednesday to the Democratic aide he targeted, then joined President Bush for a private fundraiser in the Virginia suburbs of Washington.

But the damage has been done and it will haunt Allen for a while, said Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta and a specialist in presidential and congressional races. “Clearly this has damaged his presidential aspirations,” Black said in a telephone interview. “It just raises questions about his judgment and how sincere he is in how he deals with these kinds of issues.”

At an Aug. 11 rally with about 100 supporters at Breaks, Va., near the Kentucky border, Allen singled out S.R. Sidarth, a volunteer who was tracking Allen and videotaping his campaign events for Democrat Jim Webb, and twice called him “Macaca.” “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” Allen said over laughter and ovations to Sidarth, a 20-year-old of Indian ancestry who was born in Fairfax County. Macaca is a genus of monkeys including macaques. The name also could be spelled Makaka, which is a city in South Africa. Sidarth said he felt Allen tried to single him out by race.

Sidarth recorded Allen, Webb’s campaign posted the video on YouTube, and then the campaign alerted reporters. Within days, it became the dominant political story on network and cable news programs. Perhaps more damaging, it became grist for late-night talk shows and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” with Jon Stewart.


And wherever Allen goes, Black said, the video will be hard for Allen to shake because it shows him pointing to Sidarth and singling him out for derision, and because he smiled as he needled Sidarth, seemingly enjoying the moment. “He was giving no consideration to how this event would look if it went on TV,” Black said.

Allen tracked Sidarth down Wednesday at the University of Virginia where he had returned for senior year of classes and apologized to him personally, said campaign manager Dick Wadhams. “Senator Allen made a heartfelt apology. He told Sidarth he thought he would see him on the campaign trail, but Sidarth had headed back to U.Va., so we Googled his name, found his number and the senator called him this morning,” Wadhams said.

From the beginning, I thought Allen was singling Sidarth out, not for his race, but for being his opponent’s cameraman. If one listens to the tape, it’s clear that “Welcome to America” was making fun of the Washington, DC Beltway, not immigrants. And he was enjoying the moment because he was trying to be folksy and humorous.

The problem for Allen is that Sidarth was in fact a dark skinned fellow in a mostly white crowd and that the coincidence of calling him “Macaca,” a word that has racial overtones in cultures that Allen can be presumed to be familiar with–twice–is hard to explain benignly. The Allen campaign compounded the error by an arrogant dismissiveness when questioned and, even worse, by the Senator’s unbelievable explanation that he was referring to the man’s haircut.

Allen can recover from the incident but it’ll take a lot of work. This belated apology was a good start. He’s going to have to open up and provide a convincing backstory to explain how a California boy grew up with such a fondness for the Confederacy and cowboy boots. If he can do that, he may well emerge from this stronger than he went in. At least people know his name now.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    James, did you happen to see this editorial in today’s WaPo?

    Senator to ‘Macaca’: Sorry
    The art of apologizing without really apologizing

    Thursday, August 24, 2006; A20

    TWELVE DAYS after his now-notorious “macaca” comment, Sen. George F. Allen (R-Va.) succumbed to the political equivalent of begging for mercy: He apologized to his victim. Yesterday he telephoned S.R. Sidarth, a student at the University of Virginia who is of Indian ancestry, and said he was sorry for holding him up to public ridicule at a rally held in a 99 percent white county in southwest Virginia on Aug. 11. Mr. Sidarth, who is from Fairfax County, was videotaping the rally on behalf of Mr. Allen’s Democratic opponent, James Webb.

    The senator’s gesture was apt, but it hardly seemed sincere. Even as he apologized, his campaign continued its two-faced strategy of simultaneously scoffing at the entire incident as what Dick Wadhams, Mr. Allen’s campaign manager, has said is a contrivance. To Mr. Wadhams, politics means never having to say you’re sorry.

    Mr. Wadhams, an itinerant political hit man known for his nasty attacks on opponents, told Republican leaders in a memo sent over the weekend that the Webb campaign and the media had ganged up “to create national news over something that did not warrant coverage in the first place.”

    He continued: “Never in modern times has a statewide office holder and candidate been so vilified.” In other words, Mr. Allen is the victim — not the 20-year-old student whom he mocked with an insulting, possibly racist slur in front of scores of chortling supporters and demeaned by saying, “Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!”

    Unlike Mr. Allen, whose contrition has become increasingly abject over time, Mr. Wadhams has been consistent. His first pronouncement to journalists, a week and a half ago, was to refer to the “macaca” story with a barnyard epithet and insist that the senator had nothing to apologize for. He has stuck with that assessment.

    With Mr. Allen plummeting in the polls and his reelection prospects now in doubt, he and Mr. Wadhams are in damage-control mode. They have dropped their far-fetched insistence that the word “macaca” referred to Mr. Sidarth’s hairstyle. But they ought to get their stories straight. Is the Allen campaign really sorry? Or are the senator’s adversaries just making a mountain out of “macaca”?

    If Allen’s “welcome to America” comments means that he doesn’t think many of his own constituents live in America, then what does that tell you of his priorities? BTW, i disagree with your analysis of that comment. If he’d meant what you thought he said, he would have said “Welcome to the REAL America.”

  2. Julian says:

    This just makes me want to vote for Allen that much more. Either way, he will win another term.

  3. “He’s going to have to open up and provide a convincing backstory to explain how a California boy grew up with such a fondness for the Confederacy and cowboy boots. ”

    Of course, it has happened before. For example, George S. Patton.

  4. Stevely says:

    DCL: I think it says f**k all about Allen’s priorities. This is an idiotic scandal that belongs on Entertainment Tonight instead of in serious debate.

    In any case I still intend to vote for Sen. Allen… no chance of me pulling the lever for Webb.

  5. Prince Roy says:

    I hope you’re not seriously arguing that the Senator observed his opponent’s assistant in the audience and by ‘coincidence’ pointed him out with a racial epithet.

    You’re correct in that it is hard to explain benignly, because it was not a benign comment. At worst, Senator Allen is a racist. At best, he was pandering to those in his audience who themselves are racists, which anyone should find highly troubling.

    The tactic appears to have succeeded with at least one commentor on this very post, a sad commentary on a certain segment of Senator Allen’s constituency.

  6. anjin-san says:


    It is disappointing to hear you acting as an apologist for this jerk, even more so as your explanation > ” If one listens to the tape, it’s clear that “Welcome to America” was making fun of the Washington, DC Beltway, not immigrants.”

  7. anjin-san says:

    Why was my comment edited? Half of it is gone…

  8. James Joyner says:

    a-s: It looks like you had some odd HTML code in there and it auto-“fixed” it. Not sure what it was, though.