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Virginia Notebook: Once Again, Doing the Macaca

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 10, 2009

Macaca: Is it an adjective, as in a "macaca moment," or is it a verb, as in "to macaca" a political candidate?

Since the word slipped from the lips of then-U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) during a 2006 campaign stop, it has entered the political lexicon largely with one specific meaning.

It has come to be a synonym for a game-changing political gaffe.

In Allen's case, it was a video that quickly went viral of him referring to a young Indian American volunteer for his opponent with the dismissive and, some thought, racially tinged word.

Did Gov. Mark Sanford (R) of South Carolina commit a "macaca moment" when he let aides say he was hiking the Appalachian trail instead of acknowledging he was visiting his mistress in Argentina? What about any number of foot-in-mouth gaffes by Vice President Biden -- did they rise to macaca heights?

For three years, that's been macaca's primary role in political conversations.

But this week, Virginians have seen something new: a concerted effort to reappropriate the word as a verb.

In that meaning, "to macaca" is to pursue an unfair smear against a political candidate, particularly a Republican -- a task undertaken by the media, particularly The Washington Post.

As in, "Is The Washington Post trying to macaca Bob McDonnell?"

That was the question posed last week by Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone, who then initiated a "macaca watch" to track Post stories and editorial columns about Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell's 1989 graduate school thesis.

Barone's columns quickly spread over the Internet, and the theme -- that The Post and other media organizations were trying to macaca McDonnell -- was picked up by any number of commentators.

By now, everyone who follows Virginia politics is familiar with the academic document, in which McDonnell outlined ways for Republicans to strengthen the American family and wrote that working women, feminists and homosexuals were detrimental to that goal.


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