Ryan Lizza of the New Republic takes a whack at Sen. George Allen, who, we discover, liked the Confederate flag in high school (even though he's a Yankee, which makes a difference) and hung a noose from a tree outside his law office as part of a Western memorabilia display. And he wears cowboy boots.
None of this is too likely to hurt Allen in his re-election campaign this year, and Lizza's sneering attitude toward Southerners shows why it will be some time yet before liberals can make solid inroads into the South. The TNR story could actually pose more complications for Democratic contender Jim Webb, who has tried to make the case that blacks and poor white Southerners ought to be working together. Webb, not Allen, has views on race that put him at odds with his base, particularly on affirmative action. Webb wrote six years ago:
Affirmative action, which originally sought to repair the state-induced damage to blacks from slavery and its aftermath, has within one generation brought about a permeating state-sponsored racism that is as odious as the Jim Crow laws it sought to countermand. A Soviet-style bureaucracy of political commissars now monitors every level of our society to ensure that racial and gender "diversity" matches pre-ordained models, using the awesome powers of government to make certain that white males are not "overrepresented" in education, employment or government contracts.
When his Democratic rival, Harris Miller, dug up this essay (which, let it be said, Webb makes readily available on his website), the Webb campaign had to triangulate, with a press release that seems to call for esoteric reading if one is to square it with Webb's earlier stance. "Jim fully supports affirmative action for African Americans," the campaign says, but by placing that remark in the context of "we are divided more and more along class lines than by race," another quote from the same press statement, it seems that Webb's position is that affirmative action is ok, but should be for the poor generally, black and white alike. That, or he's simply flip-flopped. Either way, the issue is trouble for him.
(I see another blogger, Conaway Haskins, reaches a conclusion somewhat different from mine about where Webb really stands on affirmative action. If Haskins is right, Webb has indeed flip-flopped, because there's no way that WSJ op-ed can be read as favoring racial preferences.)
The more that race becomes an issue, the more trouble Webb is going to have. Yankee liberals — there are more than a few of those here in Northern Virginia — will find Webb's outreach to Southern Virginians distasteful and his views on racial quotas heretical or hypocritical. If Webb tries to compensate by denouncing the good ol' boys, he'll alienate the voters he needs to beat Allen. He's running a smart campaign right now to win rural Virginians away from Allen — Webb has his own country musicians and has taken to wearing his son's combat boots as he campaigns: the boots of a soldier likely to deployed in combat, in contrast to the fancy cowboy boots worn by Allen, who is about as much of a cowboy as an extra from "Oklahoma!"
Lizza's article will get a fair bit of buzz from liberals and establishment conservatives eager to please their New Republic-following friends. But even if the worst of what Lizza has found is true and Allen was a racist in high school 40 years ago … that's not exactly going to derail his presidential chances. As Ed Kilgore of the Democratic Leadership Council writes on TPMCafe: "we are talking about the George Allen of a long, long time ago. Hell, I said and did a lot of stupid things at roughly the same time, and probably so did you, if you are a baby boomer like me." Lizza ought to take a few pointers from Webb and looked for problems with Allen a little more substantial than his clothes and Confederate memorabilia. But then, no one expects TNR to criticize Allen's support for, say, the Iraq War — that would actually require TNR to stand for something. Race sells more magazines anyway.
I'll say this though: after reading Lizza's article, I would vote for George Allen's mom. She could run for senator, president, whatever:
Etty was, in fact, French, and, as such, she was a deliciously indiscreet cultural libertine. She would do housework in her bra and panties. She wore muumuus and wraparound sunglasses and once won a belly button contest. According to Jennifer, "Mom prided herself for being un-American. … She was ashamed that she had given up her French citizenship to become a citizen of a country she deemed infantile." When her husband later moved the family to Virginia, Etty despised living in the state. She was also anti-Washington before her son ever was, albeit in a slightly more continental fashion. "Washingtonians think their town resembles Paris," she once scoffed. "If Paris passed gas, you'd have Washington."