In football, there are penalties for piling on and unsportsmanlike conduct. In politics, you can get away with almost anything.
Democrats are playing a very dirty game - the political equivalent of a crack back block - in their attempt to smear Sen. George Allen, (R-Va.) and elect his Democratic opponent, James Webb. The latest is a charge by an acquaintance and a former college football teammate at the University of Virginia that Allen used the "n word" and other racial slurs in the early 1970s. Allen adamantly denies it, but these days the charge alone is enough to sully one's reputation and create doubt in some minds.
Allen's chief accusers are R. Kendall Shelton, a radiologist in North Carolina, who says he used to be a Democrat but is now an Independent, and Christopher C. Taylor, an anthropologist at the University of Alabama. Shelton says Allen's alleged racial slurs make him unfit for public office. That's funny. Before these allegations, Allen was fit enough to serve as governor of Virginia and as a United States senator. And it is more than coincidental that this sliming is taking place just six weeks before an election.
Unlike the "macaca" incident a few weeks ago, which he allowed to fester and did not apologize for until the political damage was done, Allen wasted no time responding to this latest charge. Among those rushing to his defense was another former teammate, Rob Berce, a wide receiver who graduated in 1976. Berce told The Washington Post, "I have never heard him use that word" (the n word). He just seemed to be a pretty upfront, good guy."
The head football coach at Wake Forest University, Jim Grobe, told the Post he is "shocked" by the allegations. "I never heard George say anything like that," he said. Even Allen's first wife, Anne Waddell, denied Taylor's story that Allen used the n-word during a visit to their house. "I can say with absolute certainty that (Taylor's) recollection that George said anything at all that could be considered racially insensitive is completely false. He would never utter such a word." You can't do much better than to have an ex-wife as a character witness.
The piling on continued with an accusation by the political action committee VoteVets.org that Allen voted against a bill to provide advanced body armor for American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. VoteVets.org spent nearly $45,000 for a television commercial that claims Allen voted for body armor that could be easily pierced. VoteVets.org's board of advisers includes 2004 Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark and former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey. The Web site factcheck.org looked into the substance of the TV commercial and found none. As reported in The Washington Examiner recently, this nonpartisan Web site is associated with the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The organization says the commercial overstates the body armor problem and that Allen did not vote against money for the vests.
The strategy by Allen's opponents is to get him off-message about the war, taxes, economic opportunity and a host of other issues and to sow doubt among undecided voters as to his character. Here is a man who grew up in a football family with a father who coached the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins, two teams with many black players. Allen's father earned the loyalty of his players - black and white. He was a leader and a motivator of men. If Allen, the father, were a bigot, or allowed his son to be one, he could not lead men on the football field or enjoy the admiration of black and white fans.
This is politics at its dirtiest and meanest. People wondering why more good men and women don't run for office have their answer in this piling on of George Allen. If this were a football game, the Democratic team would be penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and Allen would have an automatic first down. But this is politics and it's easier to wipe off the mud from a hard tackle than it is to clean yourself up after being struck by political mudballs.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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