Added Phil Singer, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, “We’ve always said that when Virginians got to see the real George Allen, they were not going to like what they see.” Maybe. Of course, Virginians elected Allen governor in 1994 and senator in 2000, but maybe they simply haven’t had a chance over the last 12 years to get to know him.
The series of macaca stories plays right into a convenient media storyline: Reporters have decided Sen. Allen is a racist, and they’re going to keep hammering away. The New Republic magazine outlined the strategy. “George Allen is the only person in Virginia who wears cowboy boots,” the May 8 story opened, sneeringly.
The piece dredged up the fact Allen once had a confederate flag in his home and noted that in 1984 he’d voted against a state holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. “As a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race,” the magazine asserted.
Now, it’s all right for The New Republic to think Sen. Allen’s a racist. But simply looking at his words paints a misleading picture. The question, in 2006, shouldn’t be, “Has a man ever said anything racist or thought anything racist?” We can’t police thought or speech, and we shouldn’t try.
The question should be, “Have his actions as an elected official harmed minority rights?” Let’s remember that, within living memory, members of the United States Senate tried to use laws to discriminate against blacks. In fact, Robert Byrd, the senior Democrat in the Senate, filibustered the 1964 civil rights bill. That’s an action that far exceeds the importance of any words Sen. Allen has spoken.
And, as even The New Republic admits, Allen helped pass an anti-lynching resolution last year. If he’s a racist, that’s a funny way of showing it.
Voters seem to have moved beyond the macaca flap. “There were no questions from the public about [Allen’s] remarks yesterday; voters preferred to talk about energy independence, health care and Iraq,” The Post reported in a page B8 story on Aug. 23. In other words, they’re concerned about issues that affect their daily lives.
Our country has made amazing strides on race relations in just a few decades. We’re far removed from the era of Jim Crow laws and lynchings. Maybe some day the media will be able to acknowledge that fact.