TNR Continues Campaigning for Webb
The New Republic, which laid the foundation for “Macaca-gate” with an April piece on “George Allen’s Race Problem – Pin Prick,” is back at with a pair of articles on Allen and his Democratic challenger, James Webb.
The first, Michelle Cottle’s “GEORGE ALLEN’S NIGHTMARE – Webb Feat,” is a clever lefthanded mash note about how Webb (in the words of the emailed promo) “may be too authentic for his own good.”
Watching James H. Webb run to replace Republican George Allen as the junior senator from Virginia, there’s no mistaking the first-time candidate for the sort of “career politician” so often derided by voters. A military hero, Reagan-era secretary of the Navy, and author of widely praised war novels, Webb has exactly the kind of CV that makes Republicans (of which he was one until recently) very, very nervous. But, despite a rough-and-tumble background and good-ole-boy roots–Webb’s most recent book is a nonfiction look at his Scots-Irish heritage and Appalachian ancestors–he lacks the wisecracking, back-slapping persona generally associated with Southern pols. Friends say he’s a great storyteller, but, as a public orator, Webb is neither conversational nor inspirational, imbuing speeches with all the pizzazz of a military briefing. (As Webb laid out his Iraq vision for the Kiwanians, one older gent seated near the dais kept involuntarily resting his eyes.) To Webb’s advantage, his ruddy cheeks, feisty red hair (neatly trimmed, of course), and fit (if not exactly towering) physique belie his 60 years. But there is something a little too reserved and guarded about the pale blue eyes, making him seem vaguely ill-at-ease when working a crowd or enduring a press Q&A. Try as he might, confronted with a roomful of strangers–be they voters or potential donors–Webb can’t help but look as though he’d rather be bow hunting.
It’s a shame the gallant, handsome war hero he-man genius boy is so shy, eh? I mean, otherwise, he’d wipe the floor with his dimwitted, racist, son-of-a-football-coach buffoon opponent, right? Goodness, one might mistake Cottle for an enthusiastic campaign staffer except that her bosses on the Webb team would likely tone down the gushing a mite.
The next paragraph, though, is the killer:
Webb’s ambivalent stump style is all the more vivid when contrasted with the master glad-handing of his opponent, Senator George Allen. Quick with a joke and an easy grin, Allen has spent over two decades honing his goodole-boy shtick–not to mention his fund-raising talents–to the point where he was, until recently, seen as a shoo-in for reelection and a serious presidential contender for 2008. Then came Macaca-gate, a historically idiotic blunder in which, at a lily-white rally in southwest Virginia, Allen singled out a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent for ridicule, twice calling the young man “Macaca”–a term that, in certain Francophone countries (including Tunisia, from which Allen’s mother hails), is a derogatory epithet for dark-skinned folk. Thanks to botched damage-control by Team Allen, the flub quickly became national news, the senator’s poll numbers began sinking, and Virginians suddenly had themselves a real race. In a high-stakes election year that has Democrats dreaming about the six-seat gain needed to retake the Senate, Virginia voters–and candidate Webb–are increasingly being sized up for their potential to deliver that magical margin of victory.
Now, I don’t dispute the idiotic nature of the blunder and, especially, the botched damage control. But could there be a more one-sided portrayal of the incident than “at a lily-white rally in southwest Virginia, Allen singled out a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent for ridicule, twice calling the young man “Macaca”–a term that, in certain Francophone countries (including Tunisia, from which Allen’s mother hails), is a derogatory epithet for dark-skinned folk”? By “Macaca’s” own account, Allen staffers and the Senator himself had been quite friendly to him even though they understood that he was assigned to follow them around with a videocamera. Yet, the reader is led to believe that there’s not a scintilla of doubt that Allen and his audience of French-speaking southwest Virginia rube audience love to ridicule dark skinned people (who just happen to work for the opposition candidate).
In case TNR readers didn’t get the message about what a racist yahoo Allen is, Noam Scheiber hammers the point home in “How George Allen missed the memo on Republicans and race.” The intro:
George Allen’s macaca riff may have exposed him as a racist bully. But the reason it caused such an uproar probably has less to do with Allen himself than with today’s GOP. To put it bluntly, the GOP doesn’t really do race-baiting any more, at least nothing like it used to. Republicans more or less stopped bashing Democrats as the party of welfare queens and violent criminals some time in the mid-’90s, just before they started attacking Democrats as the party of adulterous presidents and monogamous gays.
A few paragraphs later, we get this:
How did Allen miss the memo about Republicans and race? One possibility, which I’m not prepared to dismiss, is that Allen is a bona fide bigot. True, by 2003, Allen had begun to launder his dubious record on race with a series of good deeds, like taking a civil rights “pilgrimage” to Birmingham and co-sponsoring an apology for the Senate’s historical failure to pass anti-lynching legislation. But that was a good five or six years after the rest of the party had changed course. In any case, it doesn’t appear to have stuck.
Now, TNR is a left-of-center publication and their preference for Webb over Allen is not unexpected. They’re an opinion journal, not a newsgathering one. Still, they are the most prestigious magazine of their stripe, with a long and distinguished history. And thev’re angered many Democrats over the years by taking surprisingly independent stances. Such hack work, then, is quite surprising coming from them.
UPDATE: Jon Henke, a well regarded blogger now working for the Webb campaign as New Media Coordinator, has details on a race-baiting Monkey Fest rally organized for tonight by the Webb team.
The Raising Kaine website also has this delightful video which gives the impression that Allen is, quite literally, a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Lovely stuff. It’s a good thing Webb is so authentic, eh?