Virginia Republican Sen. George Allen and former U.S. Rep. and United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young have something in common: a gaping hole in their racial sensitivity screens. And that's a diplomatic interpretation.
Each man is trying at the moment to unearth himself from bewildering, some would say offensive, comments made about racial groups from which neither man descended. As you've probably read, former Ambassador Young has just stepped down from a Wal-Mart committee post. Young was hired to help Wal-Mart Stores Inc. improve the company's public image. He ended up accomplishing just the opposite.
The Associated Press reports Young responded to a newspaper interviewer about whether Wal-Mart is forcing momandpop stores to close as follows: "Well, I think they should; they ran the mom and pop stores out of my neighborhood... But you see, those are the people who have been overcharging us selling us stale bread and bad meat and wilted vegetables. And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they've ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans, and now it's Arabs; very few black people own these stores."
Senator Allen, on the other hand, called a young volunteer for his Democratic opponent's campaign "macaca" (apparently a genus of monkey) and made the comment, "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia." The young man he was addressing, S. R. Sidarth, is of Indian descent and is actually from Virginia, where he attended high school. Senator Allen immediately issued an apology and later sent out a statement saying his comments were misinterpreted. He was caught by Sidarth, however, on videotape, and the remarks are widely available on the Internet.
The comments in and of themselves are bad enough. Worse yet, each man possesses a history of racial insensitivity. Each should have been doubly on guard to edit his thoughts prior to speaking them.
Years ago, Young had to resign his U.N. post (he was appointed by President Jimmy Carter) "because he had violated Carter administration policy by secretly meeting with the PLO. Carter spokespeople took their time in explaining the reasons for Young's dismissal, and this delay resulted in an anti-Semitic backlash in the African-American community in which black leaders blamed Jewish pressure for Young's resignation."
Allen's past, according to the Washington Post, "includes a youthful admiration of the Confederate flag and an office that once displayed a noose." Need I say more?
I've never met Young. I met Allen once, perhaps five years ago. I was emceeing a businesswomen's reception on Capitol Hill and was standing in the doorway, greeting guests. The senator walked in. I reached out to shake his hand and say hello. As we were shaking hands, he said something to the effect of "Why do you say all those nasty things about me?" I assumed he was referring to some of my media activities. But I'd never written about him, nor had I ever said anything on TV about him. Strange.
Anyway, in view of repeated insensitivities, neither man deserves, in my mind, political or corporate prominence, and neither is worthy of the public trust.