During a press conference today, a reporter asked Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) if he was offended when, in August 2006, former Virginia senator George Allen used the word “macaca” to refer to a campaign volunteer of Indian descent working for Jim Webb’s campaign. McCain brushed off the question about the racial slur, saying only that he “thought it was very wrong” and “urged Senator Allen to apologize for that very quickly“:
Q: Many voters in Virginia took offense when Senator Allen used the word ‘macaca’ to describe one of Senator Webb’s volunteers who was of mixed ethnic background. Did you take offense when Senator Allen used that word?
McCAIN: Well, I thought it was very wrong and in fact, right away I urged Sen. Allen to apologize for that very quickly.
At the time, however, McCain didn’t seem all that offended by Allen’s remark. McCain appeared with Allen at a rally in Norfolk, VA, just five days after the incident. During that appearance, he praised Allen for his “leadership, his vision and his courage.” “We all make mistakes, and I have made my share,” said McCain [RichmondTimes-Dispatch, 8/17/06].
In fact, it’s not clear that McCain understood why the Macaca reference was offensive. Macaca often refers to a “monkey,” but can also be “considered a racial slur against African immigrants.” Yet at that rally with Allen, McCain remained attached to monkeys and cracked a joke about a man who used a monkey to get out of performing air raid drills. In the end, the monkey — rather than the man — is promoted to admiral. An excerpt from the joke:
I caught this monkey, and I trained the monkey that when the siren went off, he’d come out of the jungle, get into my airplane, start the engine, sit there, the “all clear” siren would go off, he’d shut down the engine, get out of the airplane and go back in the jungle. It was wonderful. I was sleeping like a baby.
Well, sure enough, one night it was not just Washing Machine Charlie. It was a real Japanese air raid. I came out of my tent just in time to see that monkey taking off in my airplane. I said, ‘Well, I can certainly see why you were not promoted!’ He said, ‘That’s not what makes me mad. The monkey retired as an admiral last week!’
Allen also went on to showcase McCain in television ads during his campaign.