Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How to make the Allen gaffe grow legs

This post is aimed at supporters of Jim Webb's run for the U.S. Senate, his blogging team and the Webb camp itself.

The blogosphere is humming; we're all doing the new Macaca dance. The lame denials from the Allen defenders have been a real hoot. Still, while it’s fun to play with a new toy, the righteous indignation part of the “Macaca” story shouldn’t be the main thrust from here on. It’s been done. The Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story about it today. Allen has issued a rather “soft-toothed” apology. The Washington Post has covered it.

Now the mainstream media will need new developments to do much more on it. The charge has been made and denied. So, what’s next?

Should the racism charge stemming from the Macaca/Mohawk gaffe be repeated, jackhammer-like with purple passion until November 7th? Should blogging supporters of Webb continue to demand a better apology, no matter what apologies have been, or will be, made?

My answer for both questions is “no.” After another day or two of racism charges and denials, most people will be tired of this story, should there be no new material. So, most the of benefit the Webb campaign can get from those tactics has already been derived.

Sure, there is a great temptation to continue to milk the story, anyway, after all, this mid-August gaffe has -- for the time being -- halted what has seemed to have a been a slow withering of the Webb momentum since his primary win on June 13th. So, why in hell not hammer away on the racist charge until something better comes along?
Republican senatorial candidate Ollie North and then-Gov. George Allen at the 1994 Republican convention.
('toon by F.T. Rea, originally published in STYLE Weekly)

The answer is that “something better” can be created, instead of waiting for it to come along. Plus, who has time to wait?

What you can do is to go all-out making fun of George Allen’s gaffes and goofs. You can make wise cracks about his 97% dittohead voting record and his penchant for gaffes that are so funny people outside of your own clique of fellow Webb supporters will laugh, too.

Also, plenty of other people -- outside of your camp -- are bound to continue to pick at the wound to Allen’s reputation from the racism angle, apart from what you do. It's sure to happen. So, you don't need to do much more of that, unless preaching to the choir is all you want to do. Sorry, the bloggers who are saying this episode has surely scuttled Allen’s presidential hopes are exaggerating. I wish they were right.

Face it: the “Felix” thing was too silly to really catch on. While it hasn’t made Webb’s camp/bloggers look clever, it was coming from the right spirit. It just wasn’t funny.

Hey, we’ve all tried to be funny at times, when it didn’t work. The thing to do is move on to the next joke. Don’t keep repeating the one that bombed.

If some of the new jokes, blurbs, ‘toons and take-offs on this Macaca gaffe are genuinely funny, they could take on a life of their own. The effect would then be magnified. That should plant another good Allen-bashing story in the newspapers -- which like to run funny stories, because their readers like to read them.

My point here is that the aspect of the gaffe that is most useful, from here on, will be the stupidity of his making such a crack -- while he was looking into the lens of a video camera. Dig it.

Allen thought he was being cute; it was a funny-sounding word; he was working the room. Not unlike when he was working the room in 1994, at the Republican convention in Richmond, when he made his infamous “soft-teeth and whiny throats” comment from the podium (see 'toon above). Sure the Republican-only crowd laughed then. But the bigger joke was on Allen, who has been dogged by that gaffe ever since because the press was there, too.

The racist angle of the most recent gaffe is not going to outrage many independents or moderate Republicans. I’d rather see the Webb campaign try to sell them the notion that Allen is an anti-intellectual faux cowboy, who can’t think for himself, because he’s as dumb as a bag of hammers.

Make fun of the gaffe as another sign of what happens when Allen, the party animal, gets away from his handlers and tries to ad-lib. Uh, oh -- more soft teeth. Furthermore, Allen is perhaps the dumbest senator of the 100, and an embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

By the way, this technique was used quite well on a one-term Virginia Republican senator, William Scott in the mid-1970s. Some young writers in Richmond -- led by Harry Stein -- who were working for the rather lefty Richmond Mercury, managed to get the manufactured story that Scott was the dumbest person in either house of congress planted in a national news magazine.

It was more a stunt than news, but boy did it work. However, the biggest reason the stunt worked was that it had a ring of truth to it. For instance, during a Pentagon briefing in which army officials began telling him about missile silos, Scott is widely reported to have said, “Wait a minute! I’m not interested in agriculture. I want the military stuff.”

Note: This post was updated, typos and minor copy-editing at 8 p.m. on the same day.


The Richmond Democrat said...

I think you're just being contrarian on this one Terry.

Will it grow legs? I don't know. A lot will depend on how busy broadcast news outlets are in the next week. If there's lots of news, they might "forget" about it.

On the other hand, if news is slow and something sensational is needed, this could catch on big. Olbermann is going to comment on it and if he does, then Fox and Limbaugh might try to counter, which will only spread the story more.

Of course, this is just the kind of story that might appeal to the crown jewels of political reporting: "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."

Howling Latina said...

It already has legs. It was front-paged by the Washington Post; it was featured on MSNBC's "First Read." Keith Olbermann is doing a segment tonight.

Screw tempering comments. This goober is an out-and-out racist; and he needs to be outed, over and over and over AGAIN.

Remember the swiftboaters of '04. They kept hammering the story until Kerry went from war hero to war criminal.

I believe the bloggers should interview the kid volunteer; hell, if I were the him I'd be trying to get space on "Good Morning America," "Today," and everywhere I could; and afterwards, I'd write a scathing book about the emotional trauma suffered as a result.

Better yet, sue the bastard!

F.T. Rea said...


You say I'm being contrarian. I say the blogs have already done their job with phase one and need to move on to phase two. I'm saying the best angle from here on is humor, not anger.

This time, I won't respond the criticism.

Howling Latina,

Sorry, I don't want to see Democrats stoop so low as to copy the swift boat techniques.

Anonymous said...


molehill, mountain...

mountain, molehill.

Alicia said...

Blatant racism followed with lies is no molehill.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

It is Allen's misfortune that he did this on a relatively slow news day. It has been picked up across the major MSM.

I think you're right that the best way to keep it alive and also keep our credibility is through humor.

Even though George Allen is pretty dumb, I'm actually uneasy about labeling him stupid. When a bunch of intellectuals start piling on that somebody who cultivates a "regular guy" image is dumb, it makes us look like a bunch of know-it-alls attacking an ordinary fellow. A lot of the public will identify with him not us.

Americans tend to be anti-intellectual and if you go back to the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore was villified by the press and public for appearing too smart and unfair to Bush.

I do think you're on to something, though, with keeping it alive through humor.

Some possible options include bumper stickers or buttons with slogans like "George Felix Allen speaks French." Or, "Another Macaca for Webb."

Or would those be over the top and invite a backlash too?

Anonymous said...


Could that be ole macaca with a cam and Mohawk?
Please press this race issue as the cartoons of Webb at the Confederate Memorial are in the works. Next we should all read Born Fighting and Webb's page after page defense of the racism of the Democratic party. This will be fun!

F.T. Rea said...


You're right, the dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers charge needs to be made with some finesse. But the beauty of it is that it can stick. Allen is not a smart cookie. He doesn‘t mind talking with a snoot-full, sometimes.

To the anonymous comments,

I say this -- if you can't say who you are, I don't feel like I should have to respond. I haven't blocked such comments yet ...

Scott said...

I am not disagreeing with anything anyone has said, however my two cents is that the bar for dumbness has already been set very, very low by the current administration. And what did Bush inc. do? They spinned it so that they can "relate to real Americans better than those leftwing intellectuals and scientists with their global warming theories". Lets make sure this time they can't spin away from compassion and plain ol' commonsense. Let's keep it simple: Allen is a racist who cannot be trusted to represent Virginia, let alone the country.

Triscula said...

I agree that the best way to use this is to highlight the stupidity. How dumb do you have to be to let your opponent tape you saying something like that? Don't Virginians deserve a senator with some brains and tact?
The racism angle works for a short time, but I've noticed that if you work something like that too hard people just quit listening to it...and, to be honest, there are plenty of folks in VA who won't care very much about an obscure slur like that. It's funny for awhile, but the bigger issue (and the more useful one) is Allen's poor judgement and lack of gray matter.

The Real Macaca's Worst Nightmare said...

We're already on it. One of the funniest things I've seen yet is The REAL Macaca shirts on CafePress. Get a few hundred of those out there and the thing will never go away.