Hanging Out in Rockford: The macaca moment

Two boys from Virginia; two of Irish descent; two sons of fathers who moved their families across the United States in pursuit of careers; two Republicans; one grew, the other didn’t; one reached out in the direction of new ideas, the other mired himself in political demagoguery, and the course of the entire United States changed as a result.

“Master of the universe,” Tom Wolfe uses this term in Bonfire of the Vanities. George Allen, the frat boy from California, was truly a master of the universe. Having previously been a congressman and governor of the great state of Virginia, he was supposed to win an easy re-election to the Senate and, from there, go on to be a candidate for President of the United States. He was leading his opponent by 12 or 15 points, depending on what survey you picked.

His opponent, Jim Webb, a newly-converted Democrat, formerly a Ronald Reagan loyalist and Emmy-winning journalist, was the secretary of the Navy and then settled down to write books—books they made into movies. His opponent looked at the impending war in Iraq and was against it. He was against it before that was popular. He had served heroically in Vietnam. He had used his own body to shield a friend from harm. He had knowledge, firsthand, of what war was really about. He wrote articles against the impending invasion. He had talked to Allen about his support for the war. Allen had replied that he had to support the president. Now, Jim Webb decided to run against him.

No one gave him much of a chance, including George Allen. No one took him seriously, especially the incumbent Senator. One who did was a young American student of Indian descent named S.R. Sidarth, but then, what American isn’t of foreign descent, unless you are an American Indian? This young college student worked tirelessly to help his candidate, a candidate he probably couldn’t agree with on a lot of issues, but a candidate with whom he agreed on one issue specifically—getting into the war with Iraq was a mistake. He spent his time videoing the Senator.

It irritated the master of the universe, this smallish brown boy with the strange name, following him around taking pictures of him all the time. Masters of the universe are not supposed to have to deal with this. The old frat boy inside, the frat boy who wore a Confederate flag pin to his graduation, the frat boy who grew into the congressman with a noose in the ficus plant in his Washington office, was pissed, too.

It started down deep, down where those things politically incorrect are buried, down where those things you aren’t supposed to say if you are going to be the leader of the “free” world hide. It is an area lower than the heart. It is an area somewhere between the gut and the orifice that expels poisonous residue from the body. Somehow, this mass went the wrong way. Instead of leaving the body in the normal way, the sensible way, it bubbled upward, forcing its way past all the inner devices used to deter this sort of thing, bypassing the brain (the brain was evidently on vacation) and spewed forth from his mouth, a huge steaming pile of macaca caca in all its putrid effervescence.

Sidarth kept the camera rolling. He never backed off for a second. “Welcome to America” and “the real world of Virginia,” George dug his grave even deeper. The world got to see this steaming pile. It was posted on Google (my son e-mailed me from Hungary that it actually was Youtube). All it took was a click. The master of the universe’s world began to close in about him. The polls changed by 10 percent. The opponent was on the march. Even in Virginia, racism is becoming unpopular.

In that moment, worthy of a Tom Wolfe novel, the course of that august body, that club of millionaires, the United States Senate, was changed. In losing the seat, the chairmanships of all the committees were lost. In that moment, the course of history of the greatest nation on earth changed direction. And in that moment, our chances of being involved in another stupid, useless war (with Iran) were greatly diminished. I think we owe a debt to George Allen and, if Tom Wolfe doesn’t write a book about it, I’ll be surprised.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Nov. 15-21, 2006, issue

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