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Weekly Standard: George Allen Monkeys Around

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/012/742cjkva.asp George Allen Monkeys Around Forget the presidential campaign. Can he still win
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2006
      George Allen Monkeys Around
      Forget the presidential campaign. Can he still win his Senate race?
      by Matthew Continetti
      10/02/2006, Volume 012, Issue 03

      Not long ago, George Felix Allen was among the three or four
      Republicans most likely to win his party's 2008 presidential
      nomination. He was a known quantity: Virginia governor, then U.S.
      senator, a conservative with a pleasant demeanor, and a loyal
      supporter of President Bush. He had attracted top campaign talent. His
      campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, had guided John Thune to an upset
      victory over Senate minority leader Tom Daschle in 2004, and was
      widely expected to run Allen's presidential operation once his new
      boss glided through to reelection. Prominent Republican operatives,
      including Ed Gillespie and Mary Matalin, were backing Allen's
      reelection. And Allen was a talented fundraiser with dependable
      sources of cash.

      It was easy to document Allen's political promise. Throughout 2005, a
      National Journal "insiders' poll" named him the frontrunner for the
      nomination. In August 2005, Chuck Todd, editor of the Hotline, wrote
      in the Washingtonian that "inside the GOP, there's a sense that if you
      put Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in a blender, the resulting
      concoction would be George Allen." That November, National Review
      editor Richard Lowry opined that Allen "perhaps has a better chance of
      winning the nomination than any other Republican." This sentiment
      carried over into the summer of 2006, when the American Spectator's
      David Holman wrote that "a familiarity with George Allen explains his
      presidential contender status: notable biography, solid political
      record, and affable demeanor." Kathleen Antrim, a conservative
      columnist who is working on a biography of Allen, told me she came up
      with the idea for the book shortly after the 2004 election, when she
      looked at the possible 2008 Republican presidential field and said,
      "Who else could it be?"

      As it turns out, a bunch of folks. In recent weeks, Allen has gone
      from presidential contender to embattled senator. His mishandling of a
      name-calling incident, and his ham-handed denial and subsequent
      revelation that his mother was raised Jewish, have almost eliminated
      him from the field of serious presidential candidates and even
      jeopardized his Senate seat. While still trailing in the polls,
      Allen's Democratic opponent, the author and former secretary of the
      Navy James Webb, has pulled within striking distance. This reflects a
      substantial swing in public opinion; until recently Allen's lead over
      Webb was in double digits. Also until recently, a group of senior
      Republican consultants met regularly to discuss Allen's strategy for
      the upcoming presidential campaign. Today, those meetings are devoted
      exclusively to helping the senator win reelection. Having just stepped
      out upon the national stage, George Allen now finds himself in danger
      of being shuffled off of it.

      Allen was born in March 1952, in Whittier, California. His father,
      George Herbert Allen, was the football coach at the local college.
      (Richard Nixon is the school's most prominent alum.) Allen's mother
      Etty was a French immigrant from Tunisia who had met George H. Allen
      in 1950, during a trip to Sioux City, Iowa, where she was visiting
      friends. When they met, George H. was head coach at Morningside
      College. "She was introduced to me by the head of the speech
      department," he told Washington Post reporters William Gildea and
      Kenneth Turan for their 1972 book The Future is Now, "at a, what the
      heck kind of thing was it, it was a play, a play at the community
      theater." Soon after, George H. flew to Tunis to propose. They married
      in 1951.

      "I grew up in a football family," Sen. Allen likes to say. It was an
      itinerant upbringing. From Whittier, the Allens moved to Los Angeles,
      where George H. worked for one year as an offensive coach for the
      Rams. From L.A., the family moved to the Chicago suburbs, where George
      H. apprenticed under the legendary George Halas, the founder, owner,
      coach, and onetime player for the Bears. From Chicago, it was back to
      Los Angeles, where George H. became head coach for the Rams.
      Eventually, the Allens would leave Los Angeles for Washington, where
      George H. coached the Redskins.

      Through all these family moves, football was the constant. It was the
      family religion. At age four, George F. got his first football, the
      modified kind typically used to train future quarterbacks. "It was at
      least twice as heavy as normal," he told the Washington Post in 1981.
      George F. was a natural quarterback. His senior year in high school,
      he led the Palos Verdes team to a 7-2 season. He earned athletic
      scholarships to UCLA and Princeton, opting for UCLA but only staying
      there a year. When his family moved to Washington, Allen followed,
      matriculating at the University of Virginia. He quarterbacked at UVA,
      too, but he wasn't quite up to the college game.

      The main source of information about Allen's youth is his sister
      Jennifer, the youngest member of the family and the only daughter.
      Jennifer Allen became a writer for the Washington Post and in 2000
      published a memoir, Fifth Quarter, about her upbringing. "The best
      book about football I've ever read," the novelist Pat Conroy blurbs in
      the paperback edition. If that's true, then Conroy hasn't read many
      football books. Fifth Quarter is mainly a catalogue of Jennifer
      Allen's boyfriends, and an in-depth account of the author's
      complicated feelings toward her father and her ambivalence about her
      mother. There is nothing ambivalent about her feelings toward her
      oldest brother: "I was so happy during the summer of 1969," she
      writes. "My brother George was leaving home."

      Fifth Quarter's early chapters focus on Jennifer's life as an
      8-year-old in a testosterone-heavy household--featuring George as well
      as brothers Greg and Bruce. Jennifer spent most of her time alone in
      her walk-in closet, "my only quiet and private place in the house." It
      is clear she lived in fear of her oldest brother George and his
      friends, who "had the same pork-chop sideburns, greasy-haired scalps,
      and almost the same broken-toothed look as the inmates on George's
      favorite album, Johnny Cash, Live from Folsom Prison." In one
      oft-quoted passage, Jennifer Allen writes:

      We all obeyed George. If we didn't, we knew he would kill us.
      Once, when Bruce refused to go to bed, George hurled him through a
      sliding glass door. Another time, when Gregory refused to go to bed,
      George tackled him and broke his collarbone. Another time, when I
      refused to go to bed, George dragged me up the stairs by my hair.
      George hoped someday to become a dentist. George said he saw dentistry
      as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer.

      While no one disputes the facts contained in Fifth Quarter (George F.
      vetted the manuscript before publication), such passages seem designed
      to present an unflattering picture of the future senator. For one
      thing, time is condensed; years might have passed between the episodes
      described. For another, most people know that young siblings get into
      fights. They say dumb things. And sometimes they accidentally hurt
      each other badly. It is plain that George was a little wild growing
      up. "Sen. Allen was a rambunctious kid," David Snepp, Allen's press
      secretary, told me. "He probably gave heartburn to his mother."

      In the early 1970s, while he was at UVA, Allen had little idea what
      career path to follow. An undergraduate history major, he had no plans
      to enter politics. "At the time I wanted to be an architect or a
      lawyer," Allen told THE WEEKLY STANDARD's Fred Barnes earlier this
      year. "All my ideas of what I wanted to do: lawyer, architect, also
      possibly getting into ranching or farming. And the architecture, which
      I still do like, just had too much mountain to it. And so I went to
      law school."

      During the summers, Allen worked on a ranch out West, where he
      developed his affection for cowboy boots. Another habit, dipping
      snuff, he acquired from hanging out at Chicago Bears training camps.
      Allen says he had a youthful interest in politics. He supported
      Goldwater in 1964, a position that puzzled his parents. Richard Nixon
      was a friend of his father's from Whittier. And Ronald Reagan, as
      governor of California, attended L.A. Rams practices, where he was
      introduced to George F., then in high school.

      In 1976, while studying law, Allen received an invitation from
      conservative activist David Keene to become chair of Young Virginians
      for Reagan. "They all knew I liked Reagan," Allen told Barnes. "They
      said, 'You'll do fine, just tell people why you like Ronald Reagan.'"
      Reagan won the Virginia primary that year, but went on to lose the
      nomination to incumbent Gerald Ford. But the lessons and thrills of
      Reagan's insurgent campaign stuck with the young volunteer. Allen was
      slowly entering the world of electoral politics.

      A year later, Allen graduated from the University of Virginia law
      school. By this time, his family had made the decision to return to
      California. Allen chose to stay in the Old Dominion. He had come to
      love the commonwealth's history, its landscape, its people. "I was
      going to go into a partnership with someone in Charlottesville in an
      old building built in 1814," he told Barnes. "Mr. Jefferson played the
      fiddle there, allegedly. I bought this old building." Soon after, his
      prospective partner opted out of the arrangement. Allen was alone. He
      renovated his new property himself. "I lived in it while renovating,"
      he said. There was no shower. "I started my law practice and then
      bought a log house out in the country, in the woods. Charlottesville
      is where I wanted to take my stand."

      His first stab at elected office--a campaign for a seat in the
      Virginia House of Delegates--came in 1979. He lost. "In the midst of
      it I played an alumni football game," Allen said in the interview. "I
      was fine doing quarterback." The play called for an on-side kick. "I
      did a running start." They were playing on astroturf. "One of these
      mammoth varsity players cross-body-blocks," Allen continued. "My knee
      gets swept around. I end up with an operation, a blood clot in my
      calf, and I'm running for the House of Delegates. That's not why I
      lost, but it was generally an all-around miserable year. I learned a
      lot." Allen was also perturbed that his advisers "made me buy wingtips
      and shiny belt buckles."

      In 1982, in a special election, Allen made another attempt at the
      House of Delegates. "I won by a whopping 25 votes," Allen said. He had
      won Jefferson's seat. George H. was with him on Election Night. When
      they learned he had won, the family cheered. "My father said, 'Gosh,
      this is as good as beating Dallas!'" Allen has won every election since.

      In early July 1991, Rep. French Slaughter announced his retirement
      from Congress after three terms representing the Seventh District of
      Virginia. Allen was the first person to announce his candidacy for the
      seat. Slaughter's son also made a play, but withdrew after it became
      clear he couldn't overtake the frontrunner. Allen won the Republican
      nomination. The themes he articulated then would dominate his career
      for a decade: "The issues in this race," he said, "are promoting the
      work ethic through workfare instead of welfare, protecting law-abiding
      citizens and victims instead of coddling criminals, fighting against
      higher taxes and wasteful government spending, and looking out for
      Americans first."

      The Democrats nominated Kay Slaughter, a cousin of the retiring
      congressman. The most contentious issue in the special election was
      the Persian Gulf war, which Allen supported and Slaughter opposed.
      Allen ran an ad that featured a photograph of Slaughter next to a
      photograph from a Washington, D.C., antiwar protest in which activists
      had held up a banner declaring "Victory to Iraq." Slaughter said the
      ad was sleazy. She lost, 62 percent to 34 percent.

      Allen was sworn in the next week. After the ceremony, he said, "I have
      not come to be a member of a club, but rather to fight for the
      taxpayers of Virginia. We need to cease class warfare and petty
      partisan bickering to get this economy moving forward." About a week
      later, however, state Democrats announced a gerrymander plan that
      would erase Allen's district and force him into a primary against
      Thomas Bliley, a Richmond Republican. Allen's career had reached an
      impasse. One option was district-shopping, but he knew he was unlikely
      to defeat Bliley or Frank Wolf, another popular Republican
      congressman, in a primary election. At the end of his term, he
      returned to private practice and prepared to run for governor.

      Democrats had held the governor's office in Richmond throughout the
      1980s. In 1993, in the contest to replace the popular L. Douglas
      Wilder, the first African-American elected governor in the United
      States, Allen faced Democratic attorney general Mary Sue Terry. He
      started the race behind. It was a hard-fought, tough, and sometimes
      abrasive campaign. Terry attacked Allen's position on abortion. He was
      never the sort of conservative who placed values issues front and
      center, and his stance on abortion was muddled. In a general election
      debate, Terry said, "I'm pro-choice, and my opponent is
      multiple-choice." In the same debate, Allen said that in the early
      stages of a pregnancy, it is "a woman's election" to decide whether or
      not to abort her child. Later, to the Washington Post, Allen described
      his position as one of "reasonable moderation." That, along with
      Allen's positions on crime, welfare, and education, appealed to
      voters. He won, 58 percent to 41 percent.

      There ought to be little argument that Allen was one of the most
      successful governors of the 1990s. He abolished the parole system as
      promised, signed into law a parental notification abortion statute,
      and shepherded to passage a welfare reform plan that eliminated
      benefits after two years on the dole. He signed into law the Standards
      of Learning (SOL) education reforms, the model for President Bush's No
      Child Left Behind act. Allen, who criticizes No Child Left Behind on
      federalism grounds, likes to point out that the standards he
      championed are far tougher than Bush's. The best evidence of Allen's
      success as governor came in 1997, when Virginians elected his
      handpicked successor, Attorney General James Gilmore, governor on a
      tax-cut platform.

      Allen and his advisers considered a presidential run in 2000, but
      decided against it, as George W. Bush appeared unstoppable. Instead
      Allen ran for Senate, challenging the incumbent Democrat, former
      governor Charles Robb. In this race, too, Allen started behind. And in
      this race, too, he overtook the frontrunner and won. It is worth
      noting, however, that Allen's margin of victory, for a man who had
      spent two decades in Virginia politics, was not wildly impressive. He
      ran even with Bush in 2000, beating Robb 52 percent to 48 percent.

      Throughout his career, Allen has sought to govern by the principles of
      what he calls "common-sense Jeffersonian conservatism." In March, when
      I asked Allen what this meant, he said, "It means I trust free
      people." As a symbol of Virginia's heritage, and as a model for
      self-government, Jefferson has served as the touchstone for Allen's
      politics. "I look at Reagan as a modern-day Thomas Jefferson," he told
      me. Then, unprompted, he quoted from Jefferson's 1801 Inaugural
      Address: "The sum of good government is a wise and frugal government
      which shall restrain men from injuring one another but otherwise leave
      them free to regulate their own pursuits of industry. And the
      government shall not take from the mouths of laborers the bread
      they've earned."

      The Senate has frustrated Allen. He said it surprised him "how long it
      takes for them"--his fellow senators-- "to get things done." He went
      on, "They're the most collegial bunch of folks you'd ever want to
      meet. I'd never seen more people take so much time to make a decision.
      They need action."

      Allen is less a skilled legislator than a talented executive. One day,
      I asked his press secretary to name the senator's top three
      accomplishments. The items he named seem thin branches from which to
      hang a presidential bid. "First of all, he's kept the Internet free
      from taxation," Snepp said. "Second, he was able to pass the
      nanotechnology research and development act. And third, he's also very
      proud of other technology initiatives," including legislation to
      provide federal technology grants to historically black colleges and
      universities. "And," Snepp added, "he's also been very proud in
      supporting U.S. troops fighting the war on terrorism."

      On the campaign trail, Allen's efforts to provide grants to
      historically black institutions are mentioned whenever he is accused
      of racial or ethnic insensitivity, which has happened twice so far in
      2006. In its May 8 issue, the New Republic published a cover story,
      entitled "Pin Prick," which argued that "before he runs for president,
      George Allen has to run against himself." The article's author, Ryan
      Lizza, reported extensively on Allen's apparent youthful interest in,
      and seeming enthusiasm for, the Confederacy, which included hanging a
      battle flag in his living room during his successful 1993 Virginia
      gubernatorial bid (part of a collection, Allen says) and hanging what
      appears to have been a noose in his law office (part of another
      collection, Allen says).

      Lizza also brought up Allen's past support for Confederacy history
      month in Virginia; his 1984 vote against a state holiday for Martin
      Luther King Jr.; the pick-up truck he drove in law school, which
      featured a battle flag bumper sticker; and a Confederate-flag lapel
      pin Allen appears to be wearing in a high-school yearbook photo. All
      that, and Allen was a big fan of the country variety television show
      Hee Haw, which ran on Saturday mornings when he was a teenager.

      Among the chattering class, the article caused much discussion, and
      from the senator's aides it sparked a vigorous counterattack. "I think
      this is an example of a very liberal magazine searching desperately to
      find something they can hang on Senator Allen," Snepp told me shortly
      after the New Republic story appeared. One outside adviser called
      Lizza's piece a "so-called" profile. Though no one seemed to dispute
      the article's facts, the implication remained that "Pin Prick" was
      nothing more than a recycled, partisan hatchet-job. And in this case,
      the Allen campaign's response appears to have been effective. It
      marshaled the evidence to show Allen was in no way a racist. In a
      September 12 speech to the "Historically Black Colleges and
      Universities Week Conference Luncheon," Allen elaborated on his "own
      journey" to racial understanding.

      "I grew up in a very different universe from most folks," Allen said
      in the speech. "I grew up in a football family (with an immigrant
      mother), and in football, your race, ethnicity, and religion do not
      matter. What matters is how well you can punt, pass, kick, block, run,
      or tackle. What matters is whether you can produce on a level playing
      field, and help the team win! It is a true meritocracy, and that level
      playing field is what America should aspire to be." Allen went on to
      discuss his relationship with David "Deacon" Jones, the Hall of Fame
      defensive end who played on his father's Rams and Redskins teams in
      the 1960s and 70s. "What football, and my father, and Deacon Jones,
      among others, taught me," Allen said, "is to treat people as
      individuals and look at what is inside, not outside."

      Every "personal journey" has a starting point. In the speech, Allen
      never mentioned his, although one assumes it was his past ownership
      and display of Confederate symbols. Those days, however, are long
      behind him. Last week, one outside adviser sent me a seven-page white
      paper of Allen's "African-American Accomplishments." These included,
      as governor, "safer communities," "enterprise zones," an "urban
      revitalization initiative," support for the Martin Luther King Jr.
      holiday, support for Black History Month, appointing a "significant
      number" of African Americans to state government posts, criticizing
      discrimination against black farmers, funding the Virginia Slavery
      Museum in Jamestown, "authoring a resolution" at the 1997 National
      Governors' Association meeting condemning church burnings, welfare
      reform, education reform, and support for hate crimes legislation. As
      senator, Allen has, among other things, cosponsored a resolution
      condemning the Senate for failing to pass anti-lynching legislation,
      and hosted, along with Georgia Democratic congressman John Lewis, two
      civil rights pilgrimages--one to Alabama, the other to Virginia.

      All this may strike some as overcompensation, an overwhelming response
      to a perceived political weakness. In any case, the response seems to
      have worked. Most of the accusations leveled in the New Republic
      article were ignored or dismissed. Allen's reputation--such as it
      was--remained intact, and by summer his reelection to the Senate
      seemed assured.

      Then he visited Breaks.

      Breaks, Virginia, is in Dickinson County, in the southwestern part of
      the commonwealth, near the Kentucky border. It is a small community,
      and relatively poor. In 2000, according to the census, the county's
      population was slightly more than 16,000 people, including 70
      "hispanics" and 58 "blacks." The census calculated median household
      income at $23,431 in 1999 dollars. Breaks is a beautiful, historic,
      and conservative part of rural Virginia--the sort of place that led
      George Allen to fall in love with the state three decades ago.

      On August 11, as part of his annual "listening tour," Allen visited
      Breaks and spoke to supporters at a local park. Among those observing
      Allen deliver his stump speech was a "tracker" for the Webb campaign.
      On the campaign trail, tracking is a common phenomenon. A low-level
      staff member for the opposing candidate follows a politician around,
      recording everything he or she says and does. For a long time,
      trackers used pad and pen. Today, it is typical for them to film a
      candidate with a video camera. That day, Allen decided to incorporate
      Webb's tracker into his speech.

      "My friends, we're going to run this campaign on positive, instructive
      ideas," Allen said, as the videotape shows. "And it's important that
      we motivate and inspire people for something."

      He turned and pointed at the video camera.

      "This fella here, over here with the yellow shirt, macaca or whatever
      his name is, he's with my opponent, he's following us around everywhere."

      Someone in the crowd laughed, and Allen paused and smiled.

      "And it's just great. We're going to places all over Virginia"--Allen
      turned once more to the camera and pointed--"and he's having it on
      film and it's great to have you here, and you show it to your
      opponent." Presumably Allen meant "my" opponent. But the crowd got the
      point. Someone clapped, and Allen continued: "Because he's never been
      there and probably will never come." People cheered. "So it's good to
      have you here," Allen went on--and here the tape is garbled because of
      the cheers and applause--"rather than living inside the Beltway
      or--his opponent actually right now is with a bunch of Hollywood movie
      moguls." Laughter. "We care about fact, not fiction."

      Allen turned back to the camera.

      "So welcome. Let's give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America,
      and the real world of Virginia." A pause. "Now my friends, we're in
      the midst of a war on terror . . . "

      "Macaca" was Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth, known by his surname, or "Sid"
      for short, a 6-foot-4-inch tall 20-year-old student at the University
      of Virginia who grew up in the northern Virginia suburb of Fairfax
      County. Sidarth's father, a wealthy mortgage banker, immigrated to the
      United States from India a quarter of a century ago. His mother came
      shortly afterward. Growing up, Sidarth attended the Thomas Jefferson
      High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious Fairfax County
      magnet school, where he earned a 4.1 grade point average, a 1550 SAT
      score, and participated in chess club and the Spanish Honor Society.
      Sidarth, like Allen, played high-school football. He is a Democrat,
      but his politics seem centrist. In addition to supporting Webb, he
      contributed $2,000 to Joseph Lieberman's 2004 presidential campaign.

      He is also curious. As Sidarth tells it, after the Breaks event he
      sought out a dictionary and looked up "macaca," which he found refers
      to a genus of monkey, and in certain cultures is used as an ethnic
      slur. Offended, he circulated his video among some liberal bloggers.
      In a few days the Washington Post got interested in the story. And
      before he knew it, Allen had a scandal on his hands.

      There are a variety of reasons Allen's encounter with Sidarth has
      become the defining moment in his campaign. One is the increasingly
      important role technology plays in fashioning our politics. Sidarth's
      video gained an audience when he posted the "macaca" clip on YouTube,
      an Internet video clearinghouse. It was a group of loosely affiliated
      liberal bloggers who brought the video to the attention of traditional
      reporters. And the video lends itself to television, where a viewer
      can't help finding it strangely compelling: the absurdity of a
      professional politician mocking a twenty-year-old campaign volunteer;
      the goofy, triumphant grin on Allen's face as he welcomes "macaca" to
      America; the casual, unknowing ease with which Allen moves from
      committing a potentially career-ending gaffe to a canned discourse on
      fighting terrorists.

      A second reason is the incredible amount of coverage the Washington
      Post devoted to the controversy. According to the Lexis-Nexis research
      database, prior to August 15, 2006, the only mention of "macaca" in
      the Post occurred in a June 2003 "Travel" piece that mentioned the
      famous monkeys of Gibraltar. Between August 15 and September 18,
      however, the Post mentioned the "macaca" incident some 44 times.
      During that time, "macaca" appeared in seven front-page (A1) news
      articles. It appeared in six front-page "Metro" (B1) articles. It
      appeared in no less than three editorials and one op-ed column. This
      sort of coverage is what reporters mean when they say "flood the zone."

      But a significant reason "macaca" took on a life of its own was the
      Allen campaign's clumsy damage control. At first, the campaign ignored
      the story, then it said the publicity devoted to it was evidence of
      liberal media bias. The campaign said Allen might have been referring
      to Sidarth's silly haircut, then said the senator had never heard the
      word before. When asked in a recent televised debate whether, growing
      up, he might have heard his mother say "macaca"--everyone seems to
      think that in North Africa "macaca" is an everyday word--Allen said,
      "I hope you're not trying to bring my mother into this matter," and
      ignored the question.

      What's more, Allen waited almost two weeks to apologize to Sidarth.
      And every day an apology was left unsaid was a day the Post could run
      an article with a headline akin to Allen Still Hasn't Apologized to
      Victimized Young Adult. Now Allen finds himself doing little besides
      apologizing. Indeed, in September, he apologized for macaca, the
      Confederate flag, and everything else he's ever done that might be
      construed as "insensitive." "The point is, symbols matter, they should
      matter, and this is something that I wish I learned a lot earlier," he
      said. "Even if your heart is pure, the things you say and do and the
      symbols you use do matter because of the way others may take them."

      And yet, whether on the part of Allen or his opponents, the rhetorical
      linkage of the senator's past fascination with the Confederacy and his
      singling out of Sidarth is misplaced. If Allen was guilty of anything
      in the Breaks speech, it was being an oaf, not a racist. And even what
      the incident showed about Allen's personality is not the most
      important reason for the "macaca" scandal's long life. That reason is,
      while Breaks might be the "real world," more and more of Virginia is
      taking on the cultural, social, demographic, and economic conditions
      of the parts of the state where S.R. Sidarth was born and raised.
      Allen got into trouble not because of his appreciation for Virginia's
      past. He got into trouble because he found himself at odds with
      Virginia's future.

      For much of its history, Virginia's politics have been turbulent and
      unpredictable. But since 1968 a few trends have been clear.
      Conservative Democrats dominated the commonwealth's politics for much
      of the 20th century. The archetypal Virginia politician before '68 was
      the governor and senator Harry F. Byrd, whose family ruled the state's
      Democratic machine with a mixture of economic populism and racial
      segregation. But in the 1968 presidential election, Virginia threw its
      vote to Richard Nixon, and no Democrat has received its electoral
      votes since. The next year, in 1969, A. Linwood Holton Jr. was elected
      Virginia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. A series of
      Republicans followed in the 1970s, but in the 1980s, while Virginians
      were voting for Ronald Reagan by substantial margins, they also
      elected a series of conservative Democratic governors. And the
      statehouse remained solidly Democratic.

      In the 1990s, that partisan split broke down. Allen's election as
      governor ushered in a new era of Republican dominance. In 1997,
      Republicans won contests for governor, lieutenant governor, and
      attorney general. In 1999, Republicans captured the House of Delegates
      and the state senate. In 2000, with Allen's election to the Senate,
      both of Virginia's U.S. senators became Republicans. By the turn of
      the century, there was little doubt that Virginia was a Republican
      state. Realignment had occurred.

      Or had it? In 2001, cell phone magnate Mark Warner, a Democrat who had
      lost narrowly to Sen. John Warner in 1996, won the governor's race.
      Last year, he was followed by another Democrat, former lieutenant
      governor Tim Kaine. In presidential and gubernatorial contests since
      2000, the strongest GOP showing has been George W. Bush's 54 percent
      of the vote in 2004. Virginia has reverted to its voting patterns of
      the 1980s, electing Republican presidents and Democratic governors.

      With one notable difference. Virginia is growing, and it is growing
      into the sort of state--with high numbers of professionals,
      immigrants, and singles--that tends to vote Democratic. If you look
      closely at northern Virginia--the richest and most populous region of
      the commonwealth--the changes are dramatic. In Fairfax County,
      Republicans went from narrowly winning the presidential vote in 2000
      (48.9 percent to 47.5 percent) to losing it in 2004 by a considerable
      margin (46 percent to 53.3 percent). Democrat Mark Warner won Fairfax
      County in 2001 (54.4 percent to 44.9 percent), but Democrat Tim Kaine
      won it by an even bigger margin (60.2 percent to 37.9 percent) in 2005.

      While inner suburbs like Fairfax County (and Arlington and Alexandria)
      continue to trend Democratic, so too do Washington's exurbs. Prince
      William County, south of the nation's capital, is filled with
      Republican voters. At least, it used to be. Bush won there in 2000 and
      won again in 2004. But Prince William voters have shifted their
      gubernatorial votes. In 2001, they voted for Republican Mark Earley
      52.4 percent to 46.8 percent. In 2005, though, they voted for Democrat
      Tim Kaine, 50 percent to 48 percent.

      Why? Census Bureau statistics suggest that Prince William County is
      becoming more like Fairfax. Its population has increased. In this
      period, Asian and Pacific Islanders living there have gone from 3.9
      percent to 6.8 percent of the population, and Hispanics have gone from
      9.7 percent to 18.1 percent--a huge jump. Prince William County, too,
      is richer: Median household income was $65,960 in 1999 dollars in
      2000. In 2005 it was $81,904.

      The same pattern can be found in Loudoun County, west of Washington.
      Bush won Loudoun in 2000 (56.2 percent to 40.9 percent), but in 2004
      he won it while losing points (55.5 percent to Kerry's 43.4 percent).
      Republicans' share of the gubernatorial vote in Loudoun has also
      declined steadily. In 1993, Allen won 58.6 percent of the vote there.
      In 2001, Mark Earley won the county with 52.9 percent. But in 2005
      Republican Jerry Kilgore lost Loudoun, 46 percent to 51 percent.
      Again, demographic changes play a role. The Census Bureau estimates
      that Loudoun County experienced an amazing 50.7 percent growth in its
      population between 2000 and 2005. During this time, the number of
      Asian and Pacific Islanders grew from 5.4 percent to 11.6 percent of
      the population, and the number of Hispanics grew from 5.9 percent to
      9.3 percent.

      As the exurbs become more like the inner suburbs--multiethnic,
      professional, and rich--it is likely they will begin to vote like
      them, too. And more of Virginia is coming to resemble its wealthy
      north. Last week, in an email, the demographer William Frey, currently
      a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me, "The flight
      toward affordability is extending northern Virginia demographics
      southward--in effect, shrinking the traditional base." Frey's analysis
      supports that of John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who write in The
      Emerging Democratic Majority that "if these suburban"--and now
      exurban--"voters keep increasing their proportion of the Virginia
      vote, and if they continue to trend Democratic, they could very well
      tilt Virginia back to the Democrats, even in presidential elections."

      No doubt demographics are important. But candidates matter too. And a
      few months ago, Allen was one of the most talented Republican
      politicians around. Always smiling, upbeat, he seemed to have a
      message designed to appeal equally to Virginia's rural and
      technocratic voters. In March, I accompanied Allen to the Infineon
      semiconductor fabrication facility outside Richmond. As we approached
      the plant, Allen told me how, as governor, he was able to lure
      investors to build the facility. Back then, Allen found himself in
      competition with Ross Perot, who wanted the plant in Texas. Allen won.
      He called the plant "my favorite monument in the Richmond area."

      Allen is far wonkier than he appears. At the Infineon facility, his
      speech was littered with references to "solar-voltaic" batteries and
      "coal liquefaction" and "dynamic random access memory chips." He told
      the audience, "We are falling behind in this country as far as
      broadband access." There was a certain hokey charm in his delivery,
      and most of the employees gathered in the Infineon cafeteria seemed to
      respond well. Allen seemed a smart and harmless man who wanted to do
      his best for his people.

      Allen has put all his energy into his political recovery. On a recent
      Saturday, post-"macaca," the Fairfax County Republican Committee held
      its Third Annual Ethnic Community Campaign Kick-Off Rally in the
      Edison High School auditorium in Alexandria. Outside the school, a few
      protesters milled about. One wore a gorilla suit. This was Hunter
      "Patch" Adams, M.D., the self-described "doctor/activist/clown" who
      served as the inspiration for an eponymous 1998 Universal Studios
      movie starring comedian Robin Williams. At more than six feet, with
      half his pony-tailed hair dyed indigo, what looks like the jawbone of
      a small mammal dangling from his left ear, and a gorilla mask nestled
      in his furry arm, Adams is a striking figure. He is also angry.

      As a fellow protester, Anna Banana, waved and smiled at the
      Republicans entering the high school, Adams told me how the protest
      came about. "We represent democracy," he said. "Racism is not a family
      value. We wanted to address the history of Sen. Allen." The gorilla
      costume, Adams added, was his idea. "I made it in 1971." It seemed to
      fit the "macaca" moment.

      "The most disturbing thing is that he chose to isolate a kid," said
      another protester, from nearby Falls Church. Later, the activists' PR
      guy, Bill, handed out a press release. It quotes Anna Banana as
      saying, "Allen has a long history of racist attitudes and behavior."

      You wouldn't have known that, though, from speaking to the people
      inside the crowded auditorium, who made up an incredible collection of
      hyphenated Americans. According to the event program, there were, in
      alphabetical order, Afghans, Africans, Bolivians, Chinese, Colombians,
      Cubans, Filipinos, Indians, Iranians, Koreans, Pakistanis, Peruvians,
      Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans, Taiwanese, and Vietnamese--all waving
      American flags, carrying balloons, and wearing buttons embossed with
      the names of local Republican political figures.

      A local party activist named Gary, a retired engineer who recently
      returned from an overseas vacation, told me he paid no attention to
      the protesters. Gary is white. Sen. Allen's verbal slip-up, he said,
      was excusable, even understandable. "He felt too relaxed and slipped.
      It came out the wrong way," Gary said. Then he paused and smiled.
      "Sometimes I get into trouble like that, too."

      Onstage, Puneet Ahluwalia, a northern Virginia businessman, introduced
      Allen, who launched into a cheerful and enthusiastic mangling of
      greetings in the native languages of those assembled, racing through
      each phrase, stumbling over diphthongs and glottal stops, and barely
      pausing to acknowledge the audience members, who laughed, yelled out
      corrections, and cheered. It was a pleasant scene: a run-down school
      auditorium filled with delighted Americans, young and old, and a
      veteran politician who still was smiling. And here, for the moment, no
      one had any questions about Allen, race, or ethnicity, and the
      protesters outside might as well have been a thousand miles away.

      Then the moment passed. On September 17, Allen debated Webb on NBC's
      Meet the Press. The consensus among Washington Republicans was that
      Allen lost the debate soundly. Dean Barnett, a conservative blogger,
      wrote on radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt's website that, "for
      conservatives wishing for Allen to retain his seat, their best hope is
      that Virginians were otherwise occupied this morning or that the
      state's NBC outlets were having technical difficulties." Allen's
      positions were muddled. He refused to say whether he supported the
      president's or Sen. McCain's stance on terrorist interrogations. He
      refused to say whether he would serve a full term if reelected to the

      The next day, Allen and Webb debated again, this time in front of a
      paying Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce audience at the McLean
      Hilton. Among conservatives, the conventional wisdom is that Allen won
      this second debate, but that since it took place in the middle of a
      weekday, he will be unable to reap the benefits of victory. This is
      wrong. While Allen might have had a good showing substantively, the
      story that emerged from the debate was his irate reaction to WUSA-9
      television reporter Peggy Fox's question on a recent report in the
      Forward that he might have been descended, on his mother's side, from
      the Lumbroso family of Sephardic Jews.

      Fox embarrassed herself by asking the question as though she were the
      grand inquisitor at a show trial. But Allen embarrassed himself too,
      first by standing there, agape, staring at Fox for asking the
      question, then by refusing to answer it. Worse, Allen lied. He told
      Fox, "My mother's French-Italian with a little Spanish blood in her.
      And I was raised as she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian."
      It turns out, of course, that the report in the Forward was accurate;
      by the end of the week, Allen had admitted that his mother informed
      him in late August that she was raised a Jew. Etty Allen said that she
      had asked her son to keep her heritage secret, which might have led to
      his dissembling at the Chamber of Commerce debate.

      Still, Allen's move to embrace this newly uncovered part of his
      heritage has been flawed. He clumsily joked to the Richmond
      Times-Dispatch that his mother's Judaism is "just an interesting
      nuance to my background" and "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch.
      And my mother made great pork chops." His campaign quickly accused
      Webb supporters of anti-Semitism for posting video on weblogs of
      Allen's reaction at the McLean Hilton debate. But this attack was
      silly. Webb's supporters weren't criticizing Allen for his heritage;
      they were publicizing his fumbling attempt to cover it up. As this
      goes to press, the issue shows no sign of disappearing.

      In recent days Allen has been recast as a sort of bumbling phony,
      confused about his identity and his message. His encounter with S.R.
      Sidarth and his campaign's lame response tripped him up, but that was
      only the beginning. Steve Jarding, a Democratic consultant and adviser
      to Webb, said that what hurt Allen most about "macaca" was that it
      subverted his image as a likable guy. "Ninety percent of Virginians
      are aware of that tape, according to our polling," Jarding told me.
      "It cast a doubt on everything George Allen built up over 25 years."

      In the past, one of Allen's strengths was his forthrightness and
      consistency. "He's just authentic," Mary Matalin told me earlier this
      year. "We're in the era of authenticity. He's serious, but he's
      comfortable. He doesn't get rattled. He doesn't tap dance." Matalin
      might have been right at the time, but not anymore.

      Allen's advisers still believe the dynamics of this race favor the
      incumbent. They say his long record in Virginia helps quell any new
      questions or doubts about his competence. And they are changing
      strategy. The campaign has gone negative sooner than expected, running
      attack ads on Webb's views on, among other things, women in the
      military (some of which he expressed in these pages). "I think that
      what we're starting to get is a sense of the core of James Webb,"
      campaign manager Wadhams told me last week. "And it's not pretty."

      In the coming weeks, Allen expects to introduce new policies, hoping
      to change the conversation, directing the debate toward domestic and
      economic issues on which Webb is weak. And Allen has the money--some
      $12 million, dwarfing the $1.1 million Webb raised through June 30--to
      ensure a presence on radio and television.

      Webb adviser Jarding says the race will come down to money, and that
      if the Democrat raises enough to reach near parity with Allen on the
      air, he will win. In the race this is becoming, however, money may be
      less important than usual. So far, free media have dominated the
      campaign--the stories on macaca, the Lumbrosos, and so on--and this
      will only continue if Allen keeps performing as badly as he has in
      recent weeks. If nothing changes, November 7 is sure to be the
      defining test of Allen's three-decade-long political career. If he
      fails, it will be only partly because the Virginia that captured his
      heart as a young man is slowly vanishing. Mainly it will be because of
      Allen himself.

      Matthew Continetti is associate editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
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