As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Your 2008 GOP Front-Runner

Digby and Ezra Klein beat me to this unbelievable story by Ryan Lizza in The New Republic about Virginia Senator George Allen (actually I first read about it at Taegan Goddard's site.)

The guy who the Republican Party is very serious about nominating to be the President of the United States appears to be a sadist, and a dumbshit who exercised terrible judgment in the past, at the very least. Read this garbage:

...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."


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.

Now, Lizza is right when he says that none of this makes Allen a racist. In fact, he's trying very hard to shake off this past, by proposing and passing a Senate resolution apologizing for lynching in 2005, and more recently going on fact-finding trips through the South with civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis. But then you go further back, into his adolescence, and you start to understand that this guy has just an appalling lack of judgment:

George Allen is the oldest child of legendary football coach George Herbert Allen, and, when his father was on the road, young George often acted as a surrogate dad to his siblings. According to his sister Jennifer, he was particularly strict about bedtimes. One night, his brother Bruce stayed up past his bedtime. George threw him through a sliding glass door. For the same offense, on a different occasion, George tackled his brother Gregory and broke his collarbone. When Jennifer broke her bedtime curfew, George dragged her upstairs by her hair.

George tormented Jennifer enough that, when she grew up, she wrote a memoir of what it was like living in the Allen family. In one sense, the book, Fifth Quarter, from which these details are culled, is unprecedented. No modern presidential candidate has ever had such a harsh and personal account of his life delivered to the public by a close family member. The book paints Allen as a cartoonishly sadistic older brother who holds Jennifer by her feet over Niagara Falls on a family trip (instilling in her a lifelong fear of heights) and slams a pool cue into her new boyfriend's head. "George hoped someday to become a dentist," she writes. "George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer."

'Course, she's just a girl, not a big he-man like her brother. Allen actually says this in dismissing her book.

Then we learn that Allen never lived in the South until he was in college: he moved around with his football coach father, spending a lot of time in Southern California. He just gravitated to rebel redneck culture because he was so thick-headed that he thought the Confederate flag made you cool:

He hated California and, while there, became obsessed with the supposed authenticity of rural life--or at least what he imagined it to be from episodes of "Hee Haw," his favorite TV show, or family vacations in Mexico, where he rode horses. Perhaps because of his peripatetic childhood, the South's deeply rooted culture attracted him. Or perhaps it was a romance with the masculinity and violence of that culture; his father, who was not one to spare the rod, once broke his son Gregory's nose in a fight. Whatever it was, Allen got his first pair of those now-iconic cowboy boots from one of his father's players on the Rams who received them as a promotional freebie. He also learned to dip from his dad's players. At school, he started to wear an Australian bush hat, complete with a dangling chin strap and the left brim snapped up. He wore the hat for a yearbook photo of the falconry club. His favorite record was Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison. Writing of her brother's love for the "big, slow-witted Junior" on "Hee Haw," Jennifer reports, "[t]here was also something mildly country-thuggish about Junior that I think George felt akin to."

In high school, Allen's "Hee Haw" persona made him a polarizing figure. "He rode a little red Mustang around with a Confederate flag plate on the front," says Patrick Campbell, an old classmate, who now works for the Public Works Department in Manhattan Beach, California. "I mean, it was absurd-looking in our neighborhood." Hurt Germany, who now lives in Paso Robles, California, explodes with anger at the mention of Allen's name. "The guy is horrible," she complains. "He drove around with a Confederate flag on his Mustang. I can't believe he's going to run for president." Another classmate, who asks that I not use her name, also remembers Allen's obsession with Dixie: "My impression is that he was a rebel. He plastered the school with Confederate flags."

Read on to hear about the Confederate lapel pin in his yearbook picture, about spray-painting his school with slogans like "Kill Whitey" before a big basketball game against a black high school (these guys pick up ratfucking early, don't they?), about skinning a squirrel alive while in college and hanging the pelt on his wall.

The fact that an appreciation for Hee-Haw should disqualify you from public office notwithstanding, there's some fascinating stuff in here. Clearly Allen was the kind of teenager who went out of his way to be a prick to everyone he met. We all know somebody like that. He likely didn't even give a shit or really know what the Confederate flag meant, just that it stirred people up and that was the desired response. He's 40 years on and he can't explain it:

I finally ask him if he remembers the (Confederate lapel) pin, explaining that another of his classmates had the same one in his photo, a guy named Deke. "No," Allen says with a laugh. "Where is this picture?" He leans forward over his desk and tightens his lip around the plug of Copenhagen in his mouth. "Hmmm." He pauses. He speaks slowly, apparently searching his memory. "Well, it's no doubt I was rebellious," he says, "a rebellious kid. I don't know. Unless we were doing something for the fun of it. Deke was from Texas. He was a good friend. Let me think." He stretches back in the chair, his boots sticking out from underneath his desk. "Yeah, yeah, that's interesting. I'll have to find it myself." Another pause. "I don't know. We would probably do things to upset people from time to time."

He stammers some more, says he saw Deke in an airport recently. "I don't know, I don't know," he continues. "It could be some sort of prank, or one of our rebellious--we would do different things. But I remember we liked Texas."

This is the guy who wants to be President. A stammering personality chameleon who adopted the South because it suited his angry-white-male complex, who then found that the faux-redneck shtick served him well in his chosen field of politics. Larry the Cable Guy isn't from the South either. These two should go on the road together.

Allen's up for election to the Senate this year, and there's a primary on the Democratic side between Harris Miller and Jim Webb, Reagan's former Secretary of the Navy. Jim Webb has the skills and the gravitas to take out this tobacco-chewing loser and end his political career before 2008 even begins. This is the Senate race I'll be watching the closest.