Sunday, September 03, 2006

Allen, the first victim of YouTube politics

Sen. George Allen’s bullying demeanor, as he twice directed the word Macaca at the young man from the Jim Webb camp, a tracker who was video-taping his remarks at a campaign stop, on Aug. 11, has altered the course of Virginia politics. How much?

Time will tell. For a match-up that was supposed to be a cakewalk for the incumbent, Allen, the polls now rate the contest a toss-up. Still, the role the Internet played as pro-Jim Webb bloggers spread the juicy news of the tape’s existence and ready availability -- via -- is something that political pros all over the country are studying right now.

We now live in a post-Macaca world.

Actually watching the one-minute video offered the viewer something more than a brief glimpse at a racially insensitive blunder -- as would a short newspaper article -- it revealed a glowering insider, Sen. George Allen, lording it over a perceived outsider. The tape made Allen look like anything but the nice, sober guy of his carefully crafted public image, as he facetiously welcomed Webb volunteer S.R. Sidarth to the real Virginia.

Our pop culture loves a gotcha moment. So, the Macaca jokes have not slowed a bit. Cable television’s Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann have been making sport of Allen, as have many others. Now comes The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff E. Schapiro.

In Schapiro’s Sunday column, “A Punch Line: Monkey Business Troubled Others Before Allen,” he writes:

“By using the ‘m’ word, Allen also bared for an audience in Virginia and beyond a mean streak a lot of us have seen it before -- that lurks just beneath his make-believe Bubba facade. Allen, now groveling for a second term that should have been a gimme, joins a pantheon of Virginia political figures whose futures forever changed because of something silly, surprising, stupid, spiteful, or salacious.”

As Schapiro points out in his witty piece, Allen has made several passes at shrugging off his unfunny remarks, explaining his awkward remarks, even apologizing, but it hasn’t made the story go away. Instead, his apologies seem to feed it.

Update: Writing for the Washington Post, Michael D. Shear analyzes the Allen vs. Webb race in a piece that ran in Sunday’s newspaper "Macaca Moment." Shear’s overall take on the race comes off as fair. That he is giving Webb any chance is a recognition of the impact the Macaca affair has had on this contest:

“Webb has yet to advertise, having raised far less money than Allen. But there are signs that his finances are improving: a new Web site, a bigger staff and more offices. Webb consultant Steve Jarding said Allen's ‘macaca’ comment tripled the Democrat’s fundraising.

“‘Webb is now being looked at by people all over the country,’ Jarding said.

“‘This is a referendum on George Allen,’ he added. ‘Do we want the rubber stamp? Is he the nice guy that he said he was?’”

The YouTube video is the difference. This is something new and all sorts of people are fascinated with it.

The first big victim of YouTube politics is the Macaca-stained 2008 presidential hopeful, George Allen. Eventually, a YouTube moment will put another politician in its Internet spotlight. No doubt, Allen hopes that relief will come sooner than later.

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