Is Sen. George Allen a racist?
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?
Imagine in 10 or 15 years when today's kids, who have e-mailed all their lives and exposed their silliest selves on Web sites like Facebook.com, decide to run for public office?
Lizza and others have pointed to other "signs" suggestive of Allen's "race problem," such as a Confederate flag he used to display in his home that was part of a flag collection. Allen also had a noose hanging from a ficus tree in his law office that was part of his Western collection and symbolic of his tough attitude toward crime.
That collection also included a wagon wheel, by the way. Isn't that a satanic symbol or something? Weren't wagons associated with Western genocide against the American Indian. Is it possible that Allen is secretly anti-Choctaw?
Channeling Dr. Watson, what all this means is that Allen is considered a serious contender, and that there's no real dirt with which to bring him down. If you can't find a dead girl or a live boy in the man's bed, by all means find a Confederate flag in his closet.
Lizza otherwise does a fine job of painting a lively portrait of a man so naturally colorful, a writer doesn't need adjectives. He's a tall, friendly former football player who loves country music, chewing tobacco and cowboy boots. He also loves being a Virginian, even if he grew up elsewhere, and loves being Southern, even if he's not quite.
Lots of people do. It sounds to me like George Allen was a bit of a renegade growing up, looking for a way to be original in a family led by a famous, powerful father NFL football coach George Allen.
In California in the early '70s, when everybody was smoking dope, protesting the Vietnam War and waging lovefests, slapping a Confederate flag sticker on your red Mustang and wearing a Confederate lapel pin was most likely the act of a rebel, not a racist.
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