Media Matters reports that MSNBC "Hardball" host Chris Matthews downplayed Senator George Allen's public and private displays of the Confederate flag on Wednesday, comparing them to a Democrat wearing a Che Guevara or Karl Marx shirt during their youth. But as the New Republic pointed out, "Allen has either displayed the flag--on himself, his car, inside his home--or expressed his enthusiastic approval of the emblem from approximately 1967 to 2000." I challenge Matthews (and anyone else) to name one prominent Democrat who was seen wearing a Che Guevara shirt in the last decade. It's an absurd comparison.
The problem with Ryan Lizza's New Republic piece on Allen is that it generally framed the Senator's racial insensitivity in terms of his personal history, allowing Matthews and various conservative pundits to downplay his actions as youthful rebellion.
But as Lizza and I document, Allen's nearly lifelong insensitivity about race in his personal life dovetails with his years-long exploitation of the issue of race as a professional politician:
-Allen's first statewide ad in Virginia portrayed the Confederate flag;
-Allen signed a Confederate History Month proclamation that called the Civil War "a four-year struggle for independence and sovereign rights" and did not mention slavery;
-Allen opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act;
-Allen opposed creating a state holiday to honor Martin Luther King in Virginia;
-Allen voted against changing a racially offensive state song as a state delegate;
-Allen initially praised Trent Lott when he came under fire in 2002 for praising Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat presidential candidacy.
Is that history really comparable to wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt as a kid? I don't think so.