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George Allen Inspires Comedy, Philosophy Too

UPDATED 12:44 p.m. Wednesday

George Allen has finally become a household name--but not exactly how he wanted it to happen. On the late-night comedy shows, Jon Stewart was quick to pick up on the macaca incident. Stephen Colbert couldn't get enough of Allen's cringe-making rally for "ethnic Americans."

Slate today offers a George Allen Insult Generator, a sign of how the senator has come to mean little more than "macaca" to many Americans outside of Virginia.
And an unknown author has posted a fake campaign ad that makes very dark humor of the accusation (denied by the senator) that the young Allen stuffed a severed deer head into a black family's mailbox.

And here's a bit of drama starring the senator himself; it's Allen in a cameo appearance in the 2003 Civil War movie, "Gods and Generals," in which the senator joins a group of Confederate soldiers in singing "Hurrah for Southern rights, hurrah!"

The wizards of the Style Invitational are getting into the act. One of the Invitational's favorites, parody song writer Barbara Sarshik of McLean, offers this ditty, titled "George Allen's Song," to be sung to the tune of "Be Our Guest!" from Beauty and the Beast:

I'm a Jew! I'm a Jew! Something that I never knew. I sat down and asked my mother And she said that it is true!

I'm a Jew! I'm a Jew!
And I don't know what to do.
All the newest revelations
Have my campaign in a stew.

I love ham! I love pork!
I hate being in New York!
And the only testament
I read is new!

Though I'm so bland and boyish,
And I look so goyish,
I'm a Jew! I'm a Jew!
I'm a Jew!

And here's a story that on the surface has nothing to do with Allen, yet seems to be related, if tangentially, because it's about one of the main questions I keep hearing from readers: Why do people care whether Allen has Jewish heritage? Why do Jews care? Reader and essayist Jeff Gates tells a story about an incident on the Washington Metro that prompted him to think about this phenomenon of Jews (and presumably other minorities) worrying that each and every member of their ethnic group somehow represents the entire group in every little encounter with the outside world. Would Jeff have responded differently if the offending Metro passenger were not a fellow Jew? I think so. Is that wrong? Well, it's hard to see what's so bad about using moral suasion to keep up standards of public behavior among fellow members of any community. But others may differ. Check out his story (slightly abridged here) and tell us what you think.

I was standing on the subway platform Friday afternoon, looking forward to the weekend. As the train came into the station it was packed with fellow commuters. I know just where to stand to be next to the doors when the subway stops. My station is a transit point between three lines so there are always a lot of people exiting and getting onto the train.

When the doors opened, two people stood just inside the car clogging the exit points. And they refused to move, leaving less than a foot for the multitudes exiting.

I usually think to myself "why don't these people just move outside the doors and let everyone else off?" But instead, I crossed life's invisible boundary, and, without thinking, said out loud: "Why don't you guys move out and let these people off."

One of the perpetrators was a young man in his twenties, well-dressed and holding a bouquet of flowers. He turned to me and started yelling vile expletives. Surrounded by my fellow commuters I was both embarrassed and shocked. Before opening my mouth I had done a quick survey of the wrongdoers, neither of whom looked huge or threatening. (The guy was holding flowers!)

I've been watching HBO's 5th season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, written by and starring the originator of Seinfeld, Larry David. Larry says things we might think but would never act upon. He is oblivious to their consequences.

I laugh at the situations he gets himself into. But it's a nervous laugh. The show straddles a very fine line of reality. What starts out as a normal, albeit tense interaction, tumbles out of control. Actually, it weaves back and forth across this psychological border often, producing a highly charged energy that is far from relaxing. It's theater but I can picture myself getting too close to this edge in my own life. Had I just crossed into this world under the streets of Washington?

Luckily, I am a fast thinker. I replied to the dorker (Metro's term for a door hog), "I hope the person you're giving those flowers to treats you better than you have treated me." On the commute home I thought of better replies but considering the moment, I gave myself a pat on the back for a good comeback. He was silent.

As I entered the car I looked more closely at him and was shocked to discover he was wearing a yarmulke or "keepa" (Hebrew for this religious skullcap). Not only was he Jewish but his supposed devotion to our religion seemed to exceed mine. His moral standards should have towered over me. How could one of my "own" treat another that way --treat ME that way?

I was immediately taken back to the 3rd grade when I met my first Jewish bully, Sidney Minz (my apologies, Sid, if you grew up to be a well-adjusted person). I remembered how astonished I was to encounter a fellow Jew who was mean. I had mistakenly assumed that all Jewish people were kind (an attempt by my young mind to identify and feel attachment to the group I'd been assigned to at birth).

When I sat down I pretended to read my novel while ruminating about this encounter. I looked up ever so discreetly at my antagonist. I saw him furtively glance my way. I looked down while thinking of the ultimate retort.

In a situation like this, when you don't actually know the person, context is important. I went with what I knew. What would be the best reply to a devout Jew with a questionable character? I chose an intelligent riposte with just a hint of guilt: "When you wear that kippa you represent all of us. You should be ashamed of yourself." Simple and to the point, it had the added bonus of letting him know he had transgressed against a fellow Jew. And my paternal admonition would remind him of his father, or better yet, his mother. Perfect.

Larry, however, would have taken a much more direct approach. Crossing the line, he would have made his way to the young man: "At Yom Kippur I will forgive you," he would say. The ultimate Jew-to-Jew comeback. The next scene you would see him sitting down at High Holiday services only to notice the rabbi standing at the pulpit was this same young man with flowers.

If the line in my life moves just ever so slightly it could happen just like that.

By Marc Fisher |  September 27, 2006; 8:44 AM ET
Previous: Who Are George Allen's Critics and Where Have They Been? | Next: Bye-bye Frank: The Nats Get Serious

Comments

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I'm not sure that Allen's ancestry matters much to a lot of people. What makes this story a matter of continuing concern is that it adds to the list of problems that Allen handled badly. If he had said nothing more after the Tyson's Corner interview, he probably wouldn't have suffered much; people might even have felt some sympathy for him. But Allen kept it alive, first effectively contradicting his story from three years ago (when the assertion appeared in a Charlottesville newspaper) and then making it worse by telling a reporter that he had eaten a ham sandwich the previous day and he still liked pork.
His stories about how he made up the word macaca and how he just learned that his mother was raised Jewish just don't add up. It becomes a question of his intelligence and his candor, and he comes out pretty badly on both counts.
Back in the bad old days of George Lincoln Rockwell and the American Nazi Party, I once asked my dad why Rockwell and his thugs got time on TV news when they seemed to be both vile and irrelevant. Dad said "If you let people like that keep talking and report what they say, sooner or later people realize just what they are and then they're done for." It looks like that's what's happening with Allen.

Posted by: amstphd | September 27, 2006 9:43 AM

people care because its ironic that someone who has played the part of the "traditional southern christian good ol boy" has jewish roots.

but in the grand scheme of things, big deal.

Posted by: person | September 27, 2006 9:47 AM

"You're a credit to our race."

"You're why they hate us so."

Or, simply: "Back off, dick-for-brains."

Posted by: Goyim | September 27, 2006 9:49 AM

Hey Marc, why don't you rename this chat from "Raw Fisher" to "It's All About the George Allen Scandle" chat? You tend to have a one-track mind.

Posted by: Change the Channel | September 27, 2006 10:12 AM

Why does it matter if George Allen could have Jewish ancestry?

This is the same man who wants to write discrimination into the United States Constitution and deny rights to a minority. Gays were killed in the Holocaust just as Jews were. Does he not see any parallels in the disregard he shows gay Virginians and the experiences of his Jewish grandfather in Europe?

Posted by: MichaelB | September 27, 2006 11:54 AM

Jeff Gates has a good point. Minorities generally perceive themselves as being always under scrutiny by the majority, and that's somewhat accurate. If I was black, I would boycott stereotypical foods such as chitlins, watermelons and fried chicken out of principle.

However, I think that wouldn't completely explain completely why Jews care so much about the George Allen issue. From comments on RawFisher and elsewhere, they seem to suspect that Allen has been living in the "Jewish closet." (That could be another Style Invitational contest - invent a term for that closet.) Public discrimination and harrassment was a reality for American Jews until recent years, although not nearly as bad as the centuries of persecution in Europe. I've read horror stories about Jewish kids in American schools whose Gentile classmates constantly taunt them with threats of Hell for not accepting Jesus. So I can understand why Jews would resent people who appear to deny their heritage to avoid discrimination.

Posted by: Tonio | September 27, 2006 12:05 PM

The implications of Gates' essay are troubling. He assumes that people who share his religion are of better character than people who don't, and he wouldn't have been as upset if the angry man had been rude to someone outside his religion. Also, he thinks that people outside his religion necessarily lump them all together and cannot see them as individuals.

Posted by: Tom T. | September 27, 2006 12:07 PM

I guess the reason this story has legs is because everyone is curious who George Allen really is. Why deny your Jewish roots-is he ashamed? I don't beleive him when he says he didn't know. One of the most unflattering stories I ever read about him was years ago. He was boasting about how he makes his kids eat all their food or they don't get to leave the dinner table. Now I have 5 kids myself and always stress to them not to waste food but forcing them to eat-that is borderline abusive. I think it demonstrates that he is just a bully, in general.

Posted by: novadem | September 27, 2006 12:28 PM

Tom T:

Many people "lump members of minorities all together and cannot see them as individuals." Of course it's wrong and ignorant of them to do so, but it's an unfortunate reality. It's very easy to fall into that trap if you don't belong to a minority.

I agree that it's also wrong for minorities to automatically assume that non-minorities don't seem them as individuals. Not to excuse that either, but I can sympathize with those who make that assumption, since it usually comes from having experienced discrimination. Like the horse that refuses to cross any stream, no matter how shallow, only because the horse almost drowned crossing a much deeper and faster river. In my view, the majorities who don't see minorities as individuals make their assumptions from myth instead of from experience.

Novadem:

Off-topic - my parents made me stay at the table until I finished my meal. I didn't think of it as borderline abusive until years later. I had an issue eating steak when I was a kid for some reason - I found steak tough to chew compared to other foods, and I had difficulty swallowing the pieces unless I had chewed them for a couple of minutes. One evening it took me almost half an hour to eat a small piece of sirloin, and I had to remain at the table long after everyone else had finished and the table had been cleared.

Posted by: Tonio | September 27, 2006 1:04 PM

Mr. Allen's assertion that he "just found out" about his religious/ethnic background just does not hold water. A Calif. paper ran that story three years ago. He has had a lifetime to pick up on the obvious cues and clues about Grandpa Felix' roots. He would have to be a total idiot to be blindsided by this "revelation". He knew his mother was Jewish and chose to hide that fact for political reasons. That indicates lack of character. I have no doubt he heard "macaca" at his mother's knee. It is a racial slur in her native country. He did not "make it up".
BTW, I have no doubt that the stories of his misspent youth at UVA, either. I can easily see him spewing racial slurs.

Posted by: incredulous | September 27, 2006 1:09 PM

Tom T, I think he has a higher standard for people who belong to his "group" or he doesn't want to be embarrased by someone he perceives as representing his group. That's not unusual. But, hey if you want to be "troubled" go for it.

Posted by: be | September 27, 2006 1:23 PM

What if George Allen AND James Webb inspired journalists to address real issues and get out of the supermarket tabloid business.

Show me just one article in the Post that addresses the candidates' stand on Social Security, Medicare, global warming, healthcare, transporation, homeland security,
budget deficits, education, day care, etc. etc.

Yes, they aren't funny issues. They are life and death issues and blogs like this only prove how insincere the Post and other media outlets are about issues that affect our lives.

Stop the macaca caca and other trivia now and tell us what the next senator of the United States will do for the citizens of Virginia.

Posted by: Truth B Told | September 27, 2006 1:23 PM

I find it interesting that some people preach first amendment rights and then when someone says something they disagree with, that person is unpatriotic and shouldn't have a blog. Again, I ask those criticizing Marc Fisher on his focus on George Allen. If the shoes were on the other foot (eg, he was a Dem), what would your reaction be. Why shouldn't we focus on George Allen? If he is indeed racist then supporting him would be that I am allowing racist to represent me. His views also have a great impact on how he votes on certain bills. Again, if his views are not mine then I have no business allowing him to represent me.

You know, whether his mother used the word or not is beyond the point. I have a good number of people in my family who hate a certain ethnicity and my grandmother once said to a friend of mine who was of yet another ethnicity, oh, we used to have those people as servants when I was growing up (and I can't really convey the context). Wow! However, I have "disowned" those thoughts and statements and recognize them for what they are. Once you are an adult, you can only lay so much blame at the feet of your family.

Posted by: FoodforThought | September 27, 2006 1:31 PM

Shakespeare would have had a great time writing about George Allen and his contradictions. The George Allen saga is the ultimate morality play.

George Allen's behavior puts everybody who belongs to a minority at risk. The man has made a career out of stereotyping and bullying minorities. Now his actions are coming back to haunt him.

Human rights are indivisible. When Allen displayed the noose and the confederate flag in his law office, Allen pursued his career at the expense of the vulnerable. Now, it turns out that he himself, his mother, and his children belong to a minority that is also vulnerable.

That's why Allen's ethnicity is interesting at all. It's not about Jews. It's about human dignity and what happens to those who violate it. His Jewish heritage only highlights that logic.

I feel pity for the man and hope that he will be able to rebuild his life. Most of all, I hope that his children will be able to recover from this episode.

In that spirit one must conclude that Allen does not have what it takes to be a leader of a free people. He is not yet committed to human dignity for everyone.

We, the voters, ought to grant him time for contemplation, which will benefit him and his family much more than another term in the Senate.

Posted by: Yockel | September 27, 2006 1:33 PM

i think a number of religions include the idea that they are the one true way and that all other religions are wrong and unworthy. when a person belongs to a group that they think is the "right one" (whether it's a religious affiliation or otherwise) it's hard to believe that another member of your group is a jerk. just like your expected to like all the members of your fraternity or sorority. it's embarrassing when one of your brothers or sisters acts stupid/foolish/like a jerk to another member.

Posted by: quark | September 27, 2006 1:56 PM

Sorry about repeat posting from your other blog topic on Allen, but New Republic has a story from a second teammate on the deer head incident. http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/09/27/allen_deerhead/

Posted by: jdh | September 27, 2006 2:17 PM

Fisher's jibes are as irrelevant as the candidates wasted breath on not discussing the real issues in this election and continuing to throw personal attachs at one another. If anything, Fisher only strengthens the resolve of Allen voters by more mud slinging. As a moderate independent, I like Jim Webb but can't vote for him now because of his Far Left affiliations - anti illegal immigration Kennedy types and Marc Fisher types.

Posted by: Mathman | September 27, 2006 2:23 PM

I'll give both candidates credit for making some effort to speak to the issues. Allen has done plenty of mudslinging with his total misreading of some of Webb's advertising and misrepresentation of Webb's record in the Reagan administration. Webb's "negative campaigning" has had to do with Allen's lockstep support of the Bush Administration.
Suppose, Mathman, that you didn't have that convenient conservative label, "Far Left affiliations," to allow you to set aside arguments without paying much attention to their substance? And do you even wonder about a candidate's character--an apparent difficulty in telling the truth about himself, a powerful capacity for doing the wrong thing?

Posted by: amstphd | September 27, 2006 2:43 PM

Re the fake campaign ad: Very dark, yes, but very funny too.

Posted by: DaveM | September 27, 2006 3:46 PM

It's not the Jews who should be upset about having to claim Allen as one of them- it's us Half Jews! I can't stand the idea that such a doofus is now the most prominent Half Jew in America. I feel like I should try to convert to Half Buddhist or something.

Posted by: Anonymous | September 27, 2006 3:51 PM

The point of my story is that normally I don't think much about being Jewish. But the incident I experienced on the Metro literally shocked me into doing so. Likewise, George Allen's story (which, it is important to note, includes his sad spin on his sudden discovery) has shocked many of us to consider the ramifications of identity. What makes his story even more compelling is its fusion with politics (in general and his specifically).

Each of us represents the groups we belong to. I was reminded in the subway that I hold my cultural and religious group to certain standards. I find nothing wrong in that. Identity is a way I can place myself in society. And it provides me with rules of conduct that are a part of a civilized society.

I also recognize that being Jewish is not the only group I belong to. Man with the flowers: if you're reading this be more considerate next time. You shocked not just this fellow Jew but all the other humans standing around us.

Posted by: Jeff Gates | September 27, 2006 10:15 PM

I agree with the people that say get back to the issues. When this all started, Webb wanted to make the campaign about the war in Iraq, and Allen wanted to make the campaign about his leadership. Be careful what you wish for. And by the way, every statement I've read from Webb since "macaca" has been, "Let's get back to discussing the issues."

There's one political aspect about the debate question, though, that I thought was interesting. When Allen got angry at the reporter for asking his mother's religion, one of the things he blurted out was, "Nobody's religion should matter." I hope all those Christian Coalition voters around Virginia heard that. How long have they been telling everyone to elect only evangelical Christians? I'm glad Allen has supported John Danforth by saying, when it comes to politics, a candidate's religion shouldn't matter. Although, if asked again, I'm not sure he would give the same answer.

Posted by: Try and Try Again | September 28, 2006 5:55 AM

I read the Post online numerous times daily, but note that it has been quite difficult to find stories regarding Senator Allen's alleged use of racial epithets - a huge story elsewhere that could prove critical to control of the Senate. I initially assumed that the Post was not publishing these stories until they could be more thoroughly sourced. But as the number of seemingly credible sources grew, the plausibility of that explanation waned. Finally I found another news outlet linking to a Post article and, after re-searching the site, realized that the Post has in fact been publishing on this for days in print, and that certain Post blogs are rife with comment on the matter. What's the deal? Today (under Metro, rather than Politics or Nation!!), rather than any link to the allegations against Allen, there is instead a link titled "Webb Explains His Use of Slur" which headline seems at least somewhat at odds with the article in question, which reports the Webb claim that he has "never used it himself as a racial slur," despite using it as character dialogue in his novel. I obviously am not the only one who has not been able to find news of this event on the Post site, as stories on this subject are nowhere to be found in recent lists of "most emailed articles." Given the interest in this story and its explosive nature, that would seem attributable to the fact that the online editors have buried it. What am I missing?

Posted by: Marc | September 28, 2006 10:26 AM

Tonio, you said, "Minorities generally perceive themselves as being always under scrutiny by the majority, and that's somewhat accurate. If I was black, I would boycott stereotypical foods such as chitlins, watermelons and fried chicken out of principle."

You wouldn't have, if you were black, because it's quite possible you wouldn't have realized that the stereotype existed. I don't know if that particular falsehood is southern or what, but I was 18 before I realized that watermelon and fried chicken were supposed to be the black thing, and that all the jokes I'd heard about watermelon were racist jokes. I love watermelon, hate fried chicken, and don't care if white people think it is funny.

Which is all to say that sometimes the stereotypes/prejudices that are carried by one group against another can be so off base that the targets don't even recognize themselves. So if you were black, I assure you that you could eat watermelon quite comfortably, without ever worrying about what the white people are thinking.

Posted by: Dynomite | September 28, 2006 10:27 AM

I am so sick and tired of reading stories about Jewish issues. Seriously. I'm not Jewish, so I really don't care. Most of the world isn't Jewish, and I bet you they absolutely don't care either.

Posted by: Fred | September 28, 2006 5:29 PM

One reason we all might be focusing on Geo Allen so much and might not be doing so were he a Democrat, is the notion in the back of a LOT of people's minds that he is tying in his long-ago and/or current vision of race in with what many consider to be at the foundation of the Republican Party since the 20th century. Like it or not, that tendency to be suspicious of the Republican party is still with a LOT of people.

Posted by: AMLand | September 28, 2006 9:17 PM

Mathman-
you were never a moderate independent. If you were, you'd know that Webb doesn't 'have ties to extreme liberals'. This is a Reagan Democrat. SO much so he worked for him.

Posted by: Will | September 29, 2006 1:22 PM

Oh, cmon, people! When such a karmic lesson is handed down to someone, and in public too-- you have to marvel at the Creator's sense of humor!!

Who knew that George Allen would turn out to be a Jewish Afro-American?????

Only in the United States.

Gotta love this country!

Posted by: dahozho | September 29, 2006 2:54 PM

"It's quite possible you wouldn't have realized that the stereotype existed." Dynomite, that might be the case for blacks who grew up in communities that were mostly black. I suspect that blacks who grew up knowning mostly whites are much more familiar with the stereotypes and with the hateful meaning behind racist jokes. If I'm correct, the same would be true of Jews who grow up knowing mostly other Jews versus Jews who grow up in mostly Gentile neighborhoods.

In my view, stereotypes are off base by definition - they're myths made up and/or passed along by people incapable of appreciating anyone who looks or acts differently from them. I'm probably stating the baldly obvious, but people who traffic in stereotypes feel threatened by these differences. They take it personally that other people don't share their beliefs and attitudes.

Posted by: Tonio | October 1, 2006 12:39 AM

Just goes to show there are plenty of jerks in yarmulkes. Religious faith has nothing to do with character. And in my experience at Hebrew school, Jews are not necessarily kind.

Posted by: justgoestoshow | October 3, 2006 4:08 PM

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