The Wonkette blog reported Thursday that former Virginia Republican senator George Allen is gearing up for a rematch against Democrat Jim Webb to get his old seat back. Webb took away the seat in 2006 when Allen ran into a barrage of heat over his calling an Indian-American Democratic campaign worker “macaca.” According to Wonkette’s Jack Stuef, Allen
likes to use old-timey racial slurs of which nobody has ever heard, so he was defeated in 2006 for saying “macaca” on YouTube. It was an important moment in American history, according to what all the pundits said at the time, because it was the first time voters elected an Internet meme to Congress.
What’s missing here? As alert readers recall, the “macaca” moment caused a buzz, but the crisis built slowly. While everybody thought it sounded like a racial slur, nobody knew what it meant. Allen said it had no meaning and it just came out of his mouth. The roof fell in after the Forward’s E.J. Kessler broke the story in late August that “macaca” is a nasty word for a black person in Tunisian French slang and Allen would have learned it growing up because his mother was born a Tunisian Jew. Allen was asked about the report a few weeks later on camera by a local TV reporter. He blew up and protested angrily about having “aspersions” cast against his mother. Calling someone Jewish is an aspersion? Well, the next day he acknowledged that he had known his mother was Jewish—that he had learned about it from the Forward article and asked his mother about it. As the Forward reported in a September 20 follow-up :
“I was raised as a Christian, and my mother was raised as a Christian,” said Allen, who is locked in an unexpectedly close race with Democrat James Webb. “And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line’s Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed.” Later in the day, Allen’s campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, identified the article as a story by E.J. Kessler that appeared in the Forward last month. According to Wadhams, after reading the article the senator decided to ask his mother about her Jewish roots.
He didn’t explain why calling someone Jewish might be considered casting an aspersion.
Allen started the 2006 race in the spring as a hugely popular incumbent, a shoo-in for reelection and in fact a leading contender for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination until this happened. Now Wikipedia includes him on its list of Jewish former senators.
It gets weirder. Wonkette goes on to note:
Allen may face Eric Cantor in 2012, because that would be hilarious. Which goon do you want, Virginia? Those are such good candidates! It wouldn’t be harder to choose if Jesus Himself was in the race..
Hey, Wonkster, you have no idea just how hilarious that particular match-up would be. Right now the Senate has 13 Jewish Democrats and no Jewish Republicans. (Arlen Specter used to be a Republican but he converted.) Now the Virginia GOP senatorial primary is not only shaping up as the one spot where a Jewish Republican has a good chance of entering the Senate — it could very well turn out to be a Jew vs. Jew race, sort of. The Democrats see lots of those, but the Republicans, as near as I can recall, have never had one.
You want weird? Here’s weird: Of the 13 current Jewish Democratic senators, one, Russ Feingold, is in trouble in November, and since Specter is departing, that could mean 11, barely a minyan. (It’s not clear Joe Lieberman would join this minyan anyway, since it includes 2 Jewish women from Calilfornia, one of whom, Diane Feinstein, has a Jewish father and underwent a Reform conversion. I’m not sure how pluralist Joe is). On the other hand, if Russ Feingold survives, the number will probably go back to 13, since Connecticut state attorney general Richard Blumenthal currently leads GOP rival and pro-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon by 11 points (54 to 43) as of October 6. A possible number 14, though less likely: Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who currently trails Republican Rob Portman by 19 points (according to Quinnipiac on Oct. 6) but insists the polls are wrong.
Then again, current Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, appointed to the seat when Obama picked Ken Salazar for interior secretary, has a mother who is a child of Holocaust survivors, which makes him at least as Jewish as Allen (more so, since Allen is a practicing Presbyterian). Bennet is not known to call himself Jewish in public, but he is active in next generation-child of survivors activities and speaks on the topic around the country. If he’s counted as No. 14 today and all those other races break Democratic, there will be 15 Jewish Democrats in the Senate in January. Paging Rick Sanchez…
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).