By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 17, 2006
The headline on the Wonkette blog, which normally pays little attention to Virginia politics, said it all: "Breaking News: Hakuna macaca, Or, George Allen Puts Foot In Mouth And Sucks, Hard."
The reference was to the now-infamous comment in which the state's Republican junior senator called a volunteer of Indian descent for Democrat James Webb "macaca" and welcomed the Fairfax-born University of Virginia student "to America and the real world of Virginia."
It was caught on video because S.R. Sidarth , the volunteer in question, was there specifically to catch Allen saying something careless on video. Allen knew that. In fact, watching the footage, it seems that Allen turned directly toward Sidarth and stared straight into the camera.
So why say it?
That question was the subject of massive speculation on the Internet on Monday moments after The Washington Post reported the comment.
"Maybe he meant to call him maraca, after the Latin percussion instrument that the mambo kings utilized so well," the Wonkette gossips speculated. Or maybe, the site mused, "Allen might have meant to say Mufasa , like Simba's wise father in the Lion King."
Others took the issue more seriously, debating whether Allen's comments reflected some deep racism or, rather, contained a nonsense word devoid of meaning that was being twisted into something nefarious by Allen's political foes.
"Allen finally lets down his guard and shows the true face behind that big fake smile," said one anonymous writer on The Post's Web site.
Said a G. Davis , also on The Post's site, "Yawn. Mohawka -- Mo-caca. George takes a shot at a hired gun. So what? He's calling him a dipstick, not a monkey."
It could be, as one pundit suggested, that the comment was a reflection of Allen's fraternity sense of humor, in which joshing with someone shouldn't be taken so seriously. "Clearly, it was Allen having fun at a campaign event," said Virginia Commonwealth University professor Robert Holsworth .
Allen's own explanation: He chose a word similar to a nickname his campaign had given Sidarth. That nickname was Mohawk, in honor of what Allen and his staff said was the student's haircut.
That, too, prompted howls of outrage from liberal bloggers, who had a field day with Allen.
On the Raising Kaine blog, a leading anti-Allen Web site, one contributor devoted a column to debunking Allen's claim that Sidarth had a mohawk. The site posted photos -- provided by the Webb campaign -- that seemed to show Sidarth with a full head of hair.
"Macaca = Haircut?" the headline asks. "There's a lot that matches macaca to monkey, but I'm not having any luck matching macaca to Mohawk."
However, in photos of Sidarth taken from the side that were provided to The Post by Allen's campaign, the young man's hair does, indeed, suggest a mohawk style, with the sides shaved and hair running from his forehead to the back of his neck. Sidarth describes it as a mullet (think Billy Ray Cyrus).
By the end of the day, however, the question that remained was whether Allen's comments -- for which he apologized quickly -- would have any lasting impact on his reelection campaign or his likely-to-be-announced campaign for the presidency next year.
University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato said he believed they could. He called the comments "a potentially serious gaffe" and said they could hurt Allen's chances as a national candidate.
"This will be revisited if and when Allen runs for president. A gaffe like this can be rerun a thousand times in a national campaign," Sabato said. "Maybe it was an attempt to play to an all-white crowd in southwest Virginia, but it's also quite revealing about Allen's attitudes toward race."
Allen's advisers apparently came to the same conclusion. After his campaign manager ridiculed the issue, Allen apologized profusely, saying he meant no offense.
Will that be enough?
Richard C. Cranwell , the former Democratic majority leader in Virginia, who now leads the state Democratic Party, offered a hint at the answer from his party.
"It's kind of hard to throw a brick through someone's window and throw 10 bucks after it to make it all right," Cranwell said. "My guess is that George Allen would like to have those words back if he could have them."