George Allen insists that he didn't mean anything by it when he called an Indian-American college student "macaca." But when a reporter asks Allen whether some of his ancestors were Jewish -- well, now, that's an "aspersion" worthy of boos, hisses and public condemnation.
The question came up Monday as Allen debated Jim Webb in Tysons Corner, Va. Allen, asked yet again about his "macaca" moment, underscored his long-standing belief in tolerance and acceptance -- all those Confederate flags notwithstanding -- by noting that his grandfather had been "incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II." WUSA-TV's Peggy Fox followed up by noting that Allen's grandfather was Jewish and asking him "at what point" his family's "Jewish identity" may have ended.
As the Washington Post's Dana Milbank reports, Allen "recoiled as if he had been struck," and his supporters in the audience "hissed and booed." Allen, who likes to say he was raised on the "four Fs" -- faith, family, freedom and football -- demanded to know why religion was relevant in the Senate race. He told Fox to "ask questions about issues that really matter to people here in Virginia" and to stop "making aspersions" about him.
Fox says she was just looking for "honesty" from Allen, a Californian by birth who has reinvented himself as a cowboy-boot-wearing, tobacco-chewing Southern darling of the religious right. And while Milbank says that Fox's question may have seemed a little out of place at a candidate's debate, Allen's wrath seemed entirely out of proportion to the provocation. He said he was glad that the crowd had booed Fox, and he accused her of "making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs." Even after the debate ended, Allen was still fuming. When somebody asked why Fox's question had made him so angry, he shot back: "What do you mean, 'make me so angry'?" He complained about Fox's attempt to bring his family's history into the debate -- then mentioned again that his grandfather had been "incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II."
So why is Allen so upset? It seems pretty simple to us. When you paint yourself as one with rednecks and racists -- wrapping yourself in the Confederate flag, hanging a noose from your office tree, cozying up to the modern version of the Ku Klux Klan, calling out the dark-skinned college kid in your midst -- you don't take it kindly when someone asks whether you might be on the other side of the line you've been drawing.
Macaca is always the other guy. It can't possibly be me.