Beyond Macaca: The Photograph That Haunts George Allen
But the goodwill Allen may have earned with his image makeover evaporated on August 11 in Breaks, Virginia, a rural town deep in the heart of Appalachia. Before an all-white crowd, he called S.R. Sidarth "Macaca, or whatever his name is." When Allen asked the crowd to "welcome Macaca here" to "America and the real world of Virginia," his audience hooted and hollered. Below the media's radar--and away from every camera except the one in Sidarth's palm--Allen was raising a supposedly buried but still vibrant racially charge populism.
Now Allen finds himself in a quandary. While he atones for his racist gaffe in order to succeed in the 2008 Republican primaries, he cannot afford to alienate the neo-Confederate movement that helped propelled his career during the 1990s. As Allen begs forgiveness for his "mistake," his spokesman avoids criticizing groups like the SCV and CCC. "The neo-Confederates could break a Republican candidate, especially in South Carolina, where they're extremely organized," Sebesta observes.
Senator John McCain's misadventure with the neo-Confederate movement in the 2000 South Carolina primary provides a cautionary tale that must not be lost on Allen. Facing George W. Bush in South Carolina, McCain hired Richard Quinn as his state field manager. Quinn was an editor of the neo-Confederate magazine Southern Partisan, and a frequent critic of Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela, who he once dubbed a "terrorist." Before the primary, Quinn organized a rally of 6,000 people in support of flying the Confederate flag over the statehouse. Quinn dressed up McCain volunteers in Confederate Army uniforms as they passed fliers to the demonstrators assuring them that McCain supported the Confederate flag.
As soon as news spread that McCain had called for removal of the Dixie flag from the statehouse, the SCV's Richard T. Hines funded the distribution of 250,000 fliers accusing McCain of "changing his tune" and describing Bush as "the [only] major candidate who refused to call the Confederate flag a racist symbol." Bush surged ahead of McCain and took South Carolina, dooming McCain's presidential hopes.
"People didn't buy it," Baum told me about McCain's gambit. "When he thought the flag issue would help him, he was for it. When he thought it wouldn't help him, going North, he denounced it. And you still have all these gullible liberals who think McCain's a saint."
Now, Allen is trying to lay the groundwork for his own Southern Strategy in 2008. On August 9, he took time out of his re-election campaign to keynote the South Carolina GOP's state convention. If he can overcome the controversies over his past in his Senate race, Allen may yet get to play his old game once again.