Senator to 'Macaca': Sorry

Thursday, August 24, 2006

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"?

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