I've done some additional digging, and it turns out that George Allen, the Virginia senator who is being touted as the GOP presidential frontrunner for 2008, has more ugly racial history than I first thought.
First, there's the noose he hung from a tree in his law office, which suggests an approving attitude toward lynchings. In 2000, Allen and his Senate campaign manager disavowed any racial connotation, describing the noose as part of a collection of Western memorabilia that represented his law-and-order stance on criminal justice. Then, in February of this year, he tried to claim that it was "more of a lasso" and "has nothing to do with lynching." But reports on the matter that I have read all describe it as a noose, and Allen and his representatives appeared to refer to it as such all the way through 2004. And of course, if the noose "has nothing to do with lynching," why was it hung from a tree? The symbolism seems obvious. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch put it in 2000, the noose was "a reminder that [Allen] saw some justification in frontier justice." Official hangings carried out under the auspices of the law presumably used real gallows, not trees.
Allen also used to display a Confederate flag at his house, which he claims was part of a flag collection.
That's all my initial post covered. But sadly, there's much more to the story.
A March 2005 report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution notes that, "as governor of Virginia, [Allen] signed a 'Confederate Heritage Month' proclamation while dubbing the NAACP an 'extremist group.'" Here's how the Washington Post described his actions in an article last year:
[I]n the late 1990s, former governor George Allen (R) issued a Confederate History Month proclamation, calling the Civil War "a four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights." It was observed during April, the month in which the Civil War essentially began with the Confederates' attack on Fort Sumter, S.C., and ended with the Army of Northern Virginia's surrender at Appomattox. The declaration made no mention of slavery, angering many civil rights groups.
Allen also opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act in Congress, and as a state delegate he opposed creating a holiday for Martin Luther King and voted against changing the racially offensive state song (though as governor he later signed legislation dropping the song).
Given all this, it's not surprising that Allen initially defended Trent Lott when he came under fire in 2002 for comments praising Strom Thurmond's presidential candidacy. Initially, Allen called Lott a "decent, honorable man" and said that it is "unacceptable to use the issue of race as a political weapon and try to pin the sins of the past on the leaders of the present." But when Lott's comments provoked a national outcry, Allen reversed field, saying that the "comment was offensive to many Americans, particularly those who have been personally touched by the viciousness of segregation." And after Lott resigned, he added, "This is a day that the United States Senate, with Trent Lott's resignation, has buried, graveyard-dead-and-gone, the days of discrimination and segregation," with an obvious eye toward leaving aside questions about his own past.
Ever since then, Allen has been trying desperately to clean up his record. Last year, he traveled with Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights pioneer, to the bridge in Selma where Lewis and other protestors were beaten, and in February of this year he introduced a resolution apologizing for the Senate's role in preventing the passage of anti-lynching legislation.
I certainly believe in redemption, but this strikes me as too little, too late. Allen's pattern of offensive actions and racial insensitivity will make it impossible for him to be a president who represents every American.
Update 5/16: Despite reader claims to the contrary, I'm not saying Allen is a racist -- I have no way of knowing what his private thoughts are. I can only judge him on his public actions and statements, and that record is troubling at best.