What a difference one word can make.
(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Yesterday afternoon, Senator George Allen conceded that Democrat Jim Webb had defeated him. Not by much, he said, but beaten none-the-less. Still, he was gracious and announced that he wouldn't demand a recount. Oh, and he didn't call anyone "macaca."
Before last August, hardly anyone in America had ever heard the word "macaca."
Then, in the heat of his campaign, Senator Allen turned toward a member of Jim Webb's staff who was recording the event on video and inexplicably used the word that would mean the end of his senate career.
Here's what he said, pointing his finger at a young, dark skinned man of Indian-American heritage:
"This fellow here, over here, with the yellow shirt, Macaca or whatever his name is. Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America."
Literally, macaca is a kind of monkey. And to be called "macaca" is considered to be a slur in many cultures. In America, a white man calling a dark-skinned man a monkey is considered a racial slur, at least by most people.
The incident escalated, in part, because he tried to excuse himself by saying that he'd never heard of the word "macaca" before he said it. And he apologized every fifteen seconds or so. Because the excuse wasn't believable, the apologies seemed hollow.
When it became clear that neither the excuses nor apologies were working, George Allen changed the subject. He pulled out an article Jim Webb had written 27 years ago and used it as proof that Webb hated women. And then the campaign that was supposed to be a referendum on the war in Iraq turned into a nasty, mean, brutish and ugly fight by both sides.
No one can know what is truly in a person's heart and soul. Just as surely, as no one can know why Allen used that word at that time. But it turns out "macaca" is a very expensive word, not just for Allen, but for the Republican Party. It cost George Allen his senate seat and the Republican Party their majority in the United States Senate.