Allen: My heart is pure (and sorry about that Confederate flag thing)

The senator says he now understands that symbols matter.

Published September 13, 2006 5:28PM (EDT)

Fresh off his "Ethnic Rally," Virginia Sen. George Allen told an audience of educators from historically black colleges Tuesday that he's sorry for his "macaca" moment and that he understands now -- he didn't before -- why his embrace of the Confederate flag might be a problem in the minds of African-Americans and others.

Allen used to keep Confederate flags in his home and in his office. He sported one on his lapel in college, and he included one in his first TV campaign ad. But as the Virginian-Pilot reports, Allen says now that he should have realized long ago that his embrace of the flag sent a message -- even if he didn't mean it to. "The point is, symbols matter, they should matter, and this is something that I wish I learned a lot earlier," Allen 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."

Among the things that Allen has said and done? Aside from hanging a noose in this office and buddying up with the modern-day equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, he opposed both the 1991 Civil Rights Act and the idea of a holiday commemorating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. It seems that Allen didn't mention any of that in his speech Tuesday. What he did say: Calling S.R. Sidarth "macaca" came in a "careless moment" when "I fell short of my own standards, of my own positive way of living and what I strive and aspire to be."

Coming soon for the senator: "George Allen's 11th Annual Hoe Down," where $5,000 will make you a "Ranch Boss" and get you and your guests into a private reception with Allen and talk-show host Laura Ingraham, who plugs the event in an interview with Allen over what sounds like the first few notes of "Dueling Banjos."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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