Make no mistake: this was an aggressive act of social dominance, an intentional effort to humiliate and degrade a person based on his race and ethnic background, and his position on the other side of the political fence. Allen didn't appear to think twice about publicly insulting S.J. Sidarth, a native-born Indo-American traveling with Allen's campaign to tape events for his Democratic opponent. (Allen had similarly embedded one of his staffers with Jim Webb's campaign.) Sidarth was a kid with a camera -- just another part of the crew, hardly above the attention threshold of a senatorial candidate who's spending his days mingling with the rich and powerful. So what on earth inspired Allen to call him out, in the middle of his campaign speech, to the assembled crowd?
It was simply this: He thought he could get away with it. He thought that a southern Virginia crowd would be friendly to such ideas, maybe even grateful to hear a politician unafraid to speak them out loud. He believed, as militia members and perpetrators of hate crimes often do, that he was merely expressing the community's tacit values.
You have to wonder where Allen, who grew up in California, got this idea. By the mid-60s, not even George Wallace or Strom Thurmond would dare say stuff like this in front of the cameras (though we know that Nixon, among others, wasn't shy about saying it in private). They knew better. Everybody in politics, in both parties, knows better. How did George Allen fail to get the message?
Salon's Michael Scherer has a very well researched, thoughtful article up this morning (Salon Premium subscription may be required). While Allen's been acting like the word "macaca" just fell out of his mouth -- "as if he had suddenly been taken over by an evil spirit and spoken in tongues," Scherer says -- he presents the etymology of the word "macaca," (or "macaque"), a North African word for "monkey" that's long been used by Europeans in Africa as an alternative to the n-word. Scherer points out that Allen's mother was raised in Algiers and speaks five languages; she almost certainly knew the word.
Scherer lays the blame squarely on high social dominance gone wild:
To understand the full import of Allen's gaffe, it is worth taking another look at the video, which will live for eternity on the Internet and in political attack ads. It is not just a matter of what Allen says, but very much a matter of how he says it. He has singled out one member of the audience, a 20-year-old volunteer whose ethnicity already distinguishes him in a former bastion of the Confederacy. Allen is smiling. He is enjoying himself. It is exceedingly difficult to see Allen as doing anything other than connecting with the crowd by attempting to humiliate another human being -- to make him feel like an outsider, like he doesn't belong, like he will never belong. "Let's give a welcome to macaca, here," the senator crows. "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
The performance strongly suggests Sheriff's definition of "interpersonal domination" at work. Allen is being a bully.
Scherer goes on to lay out Allen's resume as a bully, charting a typical path that begins in a family of wealth and privilege, rough-and-tumble play with siblings, "alpha jock" status as a high school football player, and his early (and apparently continuing) affection for the Confederate cause. According to Scherer, Ryan Lizza, a reporter for The New Republic,
asked Allen about the Confederate flag pin he wore in his senior photo at a tony California high school. Allen responded by mentioning the funding he is seeking in Congress for historically black colleges. Lizza asked about Allen's initial opposition to Martin Luther King Day, the noose he once hung on a ficus tree in his law office, and Allen's support of a Confederate History and Heritage Month that did not mention slavery. Allen deflected all the questions, while hinting that he was a changed man. He said he recently went on a "civil rights pilgrimage." He cares about genocide. He recently passed an anti-lynching resolution....
This new person is the one Allen wants America to see. But it is far from clear if that is the person he is. Political scientist Larry Sabato, who remembers Allen as a tough-guy jock back when they were undergraduates at the University of Virginia, said he thinks the gaffe last week shows the real candidate. "In these unguarded moments, Allen does show his true self."
Another look at John Dean's list of high-SDO traits puts it all in clear relief:
Intimidating and bullying
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Tells others what they want to hear
Takes advantage of "suckers"
Specializes in creating false images to sell self
May or may not be religious
Usually politically and economically conservative/Republican
The American people, to their credit, will usually refuse to put such people in positions of power -- if they have a chance to clearly see them for what they are before it's time to pull the lever. We're fortunate that S.J. Sidarth was there with his camera to catch Allen showing us his true colors.