I respectfully disagree with John McCain. I disagree even more with Mitt Romney, but still would be comfortable with a Romney presidency. George Allen is different. Allen disturbs me for the same reasons the Duke defendants disturb me. He emanates a frat-boy air – the sports similes, the origins as an ’80s college republican – that just makes him seem like the kind of guy I was born to hate. So when I heard he was considering running for president in 2008, I really hoped something would bring him down, quick. My guess was that it would be a date rape. It turns out it’s racism:
But, while Allen may have genuflected in the direction of Gingrich, he also showed a touch of Strom Thurmond. Campaigning for governor in 1993, he admitted to prominently displaying a Confederate flag in his living room. He said it was part of a flag collection–and had been removed at the start of his gubernatorial bid. When it was learned that he kept a noose hanging on a ficus tree in his law office, he said it was part of a Western memorabilia collection. These explanations may be sincere. But, as a chief executive, he also compiled a controversial record on race. In 1994, he said he would accept an honorary membership at a Richmond social club with a well-known history of discrimination–an invitation that the three previous governors had refused. After an outcry, Allen rejected the offer. He replaced the only black member of the University of Virginia (UVA) Board of Visitors with a white one. He issued a proclamation drafted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans declaring April Confederate History and Heritage Month. The text celebrated Dixie’s “four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights.” There was no mention of slavery. After some of the early flaps, a headline in The Washington Post read, “governor seen leading va. back in time.”
Allen has described those early years as a learning experience. Indeed, he sanded off the rough edges and began molding himself to the Bush era, when conservatives began abandoning the crudeness of their old Southern strategy. During the second half of his gubernatorial term, Allen began positioning himself as the next cool thing in Republican politics, a governor more interested in results than partisanship. Indeed, at the Stafford Airport stump speech, there are no confederate flags or coded racial appeals. Instead, Allen talks about energy independence and the competitive challenge from rising economies like China’s and India’s. If it weren’t for some of the rhetoric about “tax commissars,” one might mistake Allen’s stump speech for a Tom Friedman column.
Even if the moderate turn leads voters to remember the governor of fiscal responsibility rather than the Confederate history booster, there’s still a problem. Before there was a Governor Allen, there was a state legislator Allen. Allen became active in Virginia politics in the mid-’70s, when state Republicans were first learning how to assemble a new political coalition by wooing white Democrats with appeals to states’ rights and respect for Dixie heritage.
Allen was a quick study. In his first race in 1979–according to Larry Sabato, a UVA professor and college classmate of Allen’s–he ran a radio ad decrying a congressional redistricting plan whose main purpose was to elect Virginia’s first post-Reconstruction black congressman. Allen lost that race but was back in 1982 and won the seat by 25 votes. He spent the next nine years in Richmond, where his pet issues, judging by the bills he personally sponsored, were crime and welfare. But he also found himself repeatedly voting in the minority on a series of racial issues that he seems embarrassed by today. In 1984, he was one of 27 House members to vote against a state holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported, “Allen said the state shouldn’t honor a non-Virginian with his own holiday.” He was also bothered by the fact that the proposed holiday would fall on the day set aside in Virginia to honor Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. That same year, he did feel the urge to honor one of Virginia’s own. He co-sponsored a resolution expressing “regret and sorrow upon the loss” of William Munford Tuck, a politician who opposed every piece of civil rights legislation while in Congress during the 1950s and 1960s and promised “massive resistance” to the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision banning segregation.
None of this means Allen is a racist, of course. He is certainly not the same guy today that he was in the ’80s. But his interest in Southern heritage and his fetish for country culture goes back even further. And what’s truly improbable is how someone with his upbringing ever acquired such backwoods tastes.
Read the whole thing. Despite that last qualifying paragraph, the author (Ryan Lizza) proves beyond all reasonable doubt that George Allen is not just a proud Southerner – indeed, he isn’t even a real southerner. No, Allen is a dyed-in-the-wool racist, well-versed in the Southern strategy and a dedicated opponent of civil rights. Let’s hope this derails his campaign before he has the chance to take us back to the 1950s.