« Rudy in South Carolina | The RCP Blog Home Page | Some in Hollywood Get It -- Kidman Condemns Hamas, Hezbollah »

Macaca Mania - Mark Davis

It seems that someone should weigh in on Sen. George Allen's "macaca" gaffe who is not out to draw and quarter him. But nor will I make excuses. Here are the facts:

1. At an August 11 campaign stop in rural Breaks, Virginia, Sen. Allen playfully pointed out a young man shooting video for his Democrat challenger James Webb. This kind of political mischief is common as opponents hope to catch each other in gaffes they can use in campaign commercials.

2. The videographer was of Indian descent, S.R. Sidarth, a student at the University of Virginia.

3. Smiling throughout, Sen. Allen welcomes the scrutiny, pointing Sidarth out to supporters and suggesting that "Macaca, or whatever his name is" should show Webb the footage as evidence of a candidate who actually gets out to speak with real Virginians. (Continuing that theme, Allen says "Welcome to America," which makes sense in that context but served to fuel the furor since Sidarth was the only face of color in the crowd. The full quote is "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

4. Allen suggests that the crowd should "give a welcome to Macaca, here." There is modest applause, and he heads into his planned remarks on the war on terror.

5. The debate now rages over whether "macaca" is an ethnic slur worthy of tarnishing Allen's reputation. The Allen campaign says it was a play on "Mohawk," a nickname given to Sidarth by the Allen campaign because of his hairstyle.

So let's go to work.

"Macaca" is a genus of monkey, including the familiar macaques one might see at a zoo. Some say it is a French slur toward North African blacks, but that usage is usually "macaque," just like the monkey. The folks at Wikipedia contend that it is interchangeable with "macaca," and that oh, by the way, "macaca" is among the slurs occasionally used by white supremacists.

While David Duke, Tom Metzger and a few Francophone bigots might be in touch with this term, virtually no one in America was before this week. The stigma projected onto this event by Allen's enemies, as if he had dropped an n-bomb on somebody, is simply ridiculous.

That said, what we do have here is a remarkably stupid moment from someone who might want to be President.

I don't believe for one second that George Allen is a bigot. I believe that he intended no personal slight to the young man. What kind of idiot says an intentionally hurtful thing into a camera during an important campaign?

But one could also ask whether a smart man hurls a vague, foreign-sounding nickname toward the only non-white face in a crowd? And then does it again seconds later?

The "Mohawk" excuse is lame. The kid's hair is not in that style and isn't even that remarkable. And how does one get from ""Mohawk" to "Macaca?" Twice!

If the Senator drew attention to Sidarth once in passing, to show that he welcomes video scrutiny from Webb, that would be one thing. But to invite the crowd to welcome him with what seemed like mocking applause was downright creepy.

Sen. Allen also fell prey to the messenger blame game, contending that his remarks "have been greatly misunderstood by members of the media."

While his opponents will indeed trump this up to portray him as a closet Klansman, the blame for this mess falls directly at the Senator's feet. He of all people should know that white conservatives get zero benefit of the doubt for foot-in-mouth moments like this. I fully expect to maintain my interest in him as a 2008 candidate, and I assume there will be no more gaffes of this type.

- Mark Davis
Host of The Mark Davis Radio Show