The behavior of Virginia Senator George Allen last week can only leave folks shaking their heads. Singling out a person of non-Anglo appearance for a derogatory, if not racial, slur and the suggestion that he, apparently by virtue of his appearance alone, cannot be familiar with Virginia, was about the dumbest thing anyone, much less a U.S. Senator in a re-election fight, could do.
I am not sure if it is a career-ending moment for the senator. But lesser incidents have been for others.
The sad reality is that Sen. Allen is probably too dense to recognize, even after all the national notoriety this indiscretion has received, the damage he caused himself.
If he thinks what he said is what rednecks in his redneck state really want to hear, then he may get a very big surprise in November. The Virginia electorate has shifted dramatically in recent years and has brought Democrats victories in two successive statewide gubernatorial elections.
The young man that Sen. Allen denigrated last week is a perfect example. He’s a bona fide U.S. citizen and a voter in Fairfax County. He represents the demographic sea change that has swept the farthest north and most populated areas of the state both in terms of his ethnicity and his technical savvy. He’s an example of the “creative class,” to coin the phrase made famous by George Mason University’s Richard Florida, those filling the high-tech jobs of the myriad government contract industries burgeoning in Northern Virginia who are smart, who have promising careers, who vote and who bring a desire for greater diversity and social tolerance to the ballot box.
That’s what swept Gov. Tim Kaine into office last November, with his statewide margin of victory coming almost entirely from the relatively tiny parcel of Virginia real estate encompassing Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria and a few small tiny independent jurisdictions in between. On this matter, George Allen doesn’t have a clue.
But a certain key aspect of Sen. Allen’s cognition, to be fair, is not unique to him. It has to do with the inability of those engaged in “politics as usual,” especially entrenched incumbents of all political stripes, to grasp the new rules of the game.
After all, you would have thought Sen. Allen, despite being in one of his redneck Southwest Virginia strongholds, would have realized the significance of that little thingy that the object of his derision was holding in his hand. That thingy is called a camcorder, shorthand for a hand-held video camera. No George, it did not just take still pictures, it filmed and also recorded the sound of everything you were saying!
Sen. Allen may not be a clueless as the senior President Bush was when he reportedly didn’t know about scanners at the local supermarket, but by today’s standards, he probably is. Actually, the famous Bush story has been determined a false, if famous, “urban legend.” But Allen can’t claim the same for himself. He’s on tape!
Still, camcorders and video cameras and other sophisticated recording equipment notwithstanding, by far the biggest and most significant technology that is baffling those of political status quo is the Internet.
The Internet means many things, but among them is the fact that millions of very wise, very savvy, intelligent and clever citizens are out there with mental and communication skills every bit as sharp, and often much sharper, than foggy-headed incumbent politicians.
These people are running circles around our politicians like the roadrunner does it to the beleaguered coyote on Saturday mornings.
Actually, most politicians are not that smart or mentally quick. They may be well intentioned, but they’ve built their careers by the old rules, counting on good looks, well-groomed hair, tailored suits, firm handshakes and well-rehearsed sound bites. They’ve also succeeded by playing the polling game, shaping their issues and policies on the basis of what the popular opinion polls show.
Therefore, in today’s cyber-driven world, these people are clumsy and out of date almost as soon as anything comes out of their mouths. The Internet is causing polling numbers to change at breathtaking rates and Internet-driven “talking points” are vastly superior and timely compared to what routine-oriented campaign staffs and consultants can provide.
Not only is President Bush being ripped apart by this, but so are other high profile political figures, including Sen. Hillary Clinton. The only ones immune are those who haven’t made it onto the radar screen.
So, stay tuned for November. Democracy is working in America now, not at the polls as much as in the discourse of ideas. Thank not the media for this, but the Internet. And, as with the case of Sen. Allen, simple camcorders, too.