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.