That seems to be one of the major questions floating around the on-line world in the wake of Allen's recent “gaffe.” I'm inclined to believe that the answer is all of the above. For the full details of Senator Allen referring to an Indian-American (born in my home of Fairfax County, VA) staffer, S.R. Sidarth, of his Senatorial opponent as “macaca” here's the New York Times story.
Here's what we do know (everything you want to know on the issue you can find at The Plank):
-macaca is a derogatory term, meaning monkey, historically used by French as a racial slur against African immigrants
-Allen's mother is of French-Tunisian ancestry and Allen speaks French
-Allen's staffers explained that this was a variation of “mohawk,” which they used in reference to Sidarth's haircut
-Sidarth does not have a mohawk hairstyle, but rather a mullet
-Singling out the sole person of color at a rally and referring to him by a unique name is rude, insensitive, and politically stupid
-Questions have been raised
about Allen due to his long-time reverence of the confederate flag (a bit unusual for someone who grew up in California), a questionable high school prank, and his opposition to making Martin Luther King day a holiday.
Of course, the big question is what will all the political fallout from this be. I think the most accurate commentary on this come's from Slate's John Dickerson:
“Unflattering moments become a candidate's signature when they confirm existing stereotypes. In 1972, when Ed Muskie appeared to cry
over rough campaign tactics in the New Hampshire primary, it fed the
rap that he was too emotional. (Never mind that the tears might have
been snowflakes.) In 1996, when Bob Dole accidentally careened off a stage
in Chico, Calif., the chatter was all about whether he was too old for
the job. (Never mind that the then-73-year-old quickly shook off the
fall.) Even if George Allen can somehow explain why his remark wasn't
insensitive, it may take him longer to prove that his thoughtlessness
isn't a sign of a lasting condition.”
The problem for Allen is that this fits into the existing theme that Allen is possibly a racist or bigot. If George Bush made this remark, it would fade away, as nobody has ever seriously questioned Bush's racial attitudes. But when a candidate who does carry “racial baggage” makes a remark like this, the damage is much, much graver. I suspect Allen may well be re-elected to the Senate, but I also think this may actually end his chances as a serious contender for the 2008 Republican nomination (which is definitely a good thing, in my book).