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Thursday, January 03, 2008

"George Allen's Curse"

Dan Schnur, "the national communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign," argues that when the racial slur uttering candidate was eliminated from the field, Republicans were left without a clear choice of a candidate to support:

George Allen's curse, by Dan Schnur, Commentary, LA Times: The most important word uttered in the Republican presidential primary has not been "terrorism" or "taxes," not "faith" or "family." Rather, it was "macaca."

Two years ago, conventional Beltway wisdom had Sen. George Allen of Virginia easily winning reelection and becoming the presumptive front-runner for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. He had been embraced by the Republican business and fundraising establishment, as well as by the social and religious conservative voters who represent the strength of the party's grass roots.

But when he uttered what many considered to be an ethnic slur against an opponent's staffer, Allen's Senate reelection campaign began a downward spiral from which he never recovered. ...

Unlike Democrats, who seem to enjoy the muddle of a free-for-all primary season every four years, we Republicans have generally been much more hierarchical as we choose our presidential standard-bearers. Early in the campaign cycle, we identify the party's establishment candidate, shower him with money and endorsements, and anoint him as the likely nominee months before any primary. It's a very efficient process: Seven of the last 10 GOP nominees have been elected president.

But Allen's premature departure from the field left us without a front-runner. ... The result has been a string of candidates, each not entirely comfortable with either the party establishment or grass roots, each attempting to remake himself to fit the preferences of those two groups. ...

Each of the five leading Republicans has stumbled at some point because of his efforts to position himself as someone other than what his biography would suggest. If Allen had entered the race as the preferred candidate of both the party establishment and religious conservatives -- as George W. Bush did eight years ago -- the nature of the campaign would have been very different. ...

Notice the "what many considered to be" qualification on the slur. Or could that be a dog-whistle saying, in effect, "we stand with the slur utterer and believe he should still be in the  race"? Hope not, but I wonder if he - and McCain - are one of the many who thought it was a slur? And I suppose I should note that Allen was "the presumptive front-runner" even though there were incidents in his past such as:

Before he ran for governor in 1993, Allen was criticized for keeping a Confederate flag in a cabin near his Charlottesville home, part of a collection of flags, he has said. He stirred controversy as governor by issuing a proclamation noting the South's celebration of Confederate History Month without mentioning slavery.

This year, the New Republic magazine published a photo of Allen wearing a Confederate flag on his lapel during high school.

"It wasn't a racial statement; it was a statement about his rebellious nature," said John Reid, Allen's communications director.

One of the points Paul Krugman makes in his book, and it's a point I don't think comes through clearly enough in discussions about the book, is that old-fashioned dog-whistle style tactics are no longer as effective and this has changed the political dynamics. From a recent article:

Why does this history matter now? Because it tells why the vision of a permanent conservative majority, so widely accepted a few years ago, is wrong.

The point is that we have become a more diverse and less racist country over time. The “macaca” incident, in which Senator George Allen’s use of a racial insult led to his election defeat, epitomized the way in which America has changed for the better.

And because conservative ascendancy has depended so crucially on the racial backlash — a close look at voting data shows that religion and “values” issues have been far less important — I believe that the declining power of that backlash changes everything.

Can anti-immigrant rhetoric replace old-fashioned racial politics? No, because it mobilizes [a] shrinking pool of whites — and alienates the growing number of Latino voters.

Now, maybe I’m wrong about all of this. But we should be able to discuss the role of race in American politics honestly.

I'm curious - what role do you think race will play in this election? Is Krugman right that the potential power of racial politics is diminishing with time?

    Posted by on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 02:07 AM in Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (50)


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