Kathleen Parker

If you mention George Allen outside Washington and Virginia, most people still don't know who he is. Yet the spin machine trying to cast Allen as a racist - as prequel to his presidential candidacy - already is operating at full throttle.

Thus, before millions of Americans are able to match Allen's name with his face, they'll likely be able to link his name to the label - racist.

The fact that the mudslinging has begun so early - while Allen is busy running for re-election to the Senate - confirms how seriously opponents take his presidential candidacy.

Allen, indeed, is a favorite among Republican Party players. He's also the one Democrats worry about most, according to an insider who told me: "The one Hillary's worried about is George Allen."

Allen-the-racist is not a new story, but it just got brand-new wheels with a profile in The New Republic by Ryan Lizza titled: "George Allen's Race Problem," wherein we learn that Allen once had Confederate flag stickers on his red Mustang and wore a Confederate flag lapel pin.

It's right there in the picture.

In his high school yearbook, circa 1970.

Lizza writes that he hesitated to mention the picture during an interview with Allen. It was high school, after all. But he finally decided to broach the subject when Allen recalled a disturbing early-childhood memory of driving through Mississippi with his family and seeing a burning cross in the distance.

For Lizza, that made the lapel pin even more ominous.

"Why would a young man with such a sensitive understanding of Southern racial conflict and no Southern heritage (Allen grew up mostly in California) wear a Confederate flag in his formal yearbook photo?"

My dear Dr. Watson, what could it all mean?

Allen didn't have an answer because he said he couldn't remember the pin. Maybe he was just showing off? Being a cut-up? A renegade?

If Allen were in high school today, maybe he'd get a tattoo or wear a ring through his nose, but in the early '70s kids didn't have many options for self-expression or shirking convention. You could grow your hair, maybe, or do something really radical like wear a lapel pin.

I'm not here to defend Allen or the Confederate flag, though as a Southerner, I know that the Confederate flag is a complicated symbol that means different things to different people. Racist to some, for sure, it is a symbol of history and family valor for others.

I also know that if we're going to scrutinize people's high school records as we vet them for public office, nobody gets to run. Why stop at high school? Has anyone talked to Allen's kindergarten teacher? Did he, or did he not, hog the black crayon?

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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