Having grown up in Charlottesville, I’ve heard a lot about Sen. George Allen over the years. We go to the same barber. We lived on the same street. We share some friends and acquaintances. So I hear a lot about him anecdotally. People share stories about how they knew him when, back at UVa or the first time he ran for office. Generally they’re tales of something particularly outlandish or funny that he said or did. The tone of these descriptions is overwhelmingly positive.
Or, at least, they were. The more that time passes and the more bald that Allen’s ambitions become, the sourer that these recollections seem to become. The very people who laughingly looked back on the man have, in the past few months, turned dark when the topic turns to Allen.
What I hear, more than anything else, is this: When George Allen’s past comes out, he’s finished. I’ve then had repeated to me stories about George Allen’s days at UVa that’d make your hair curl. The stories uniformly describe Allen as a frat-boy drunk, a L.A. boy portraying a southerner like a cross-dresser portrays a woman, a racist bully with no interests beyond his own. Are the stories for real? I don’t know—that’s why I don’t repeat them here.
I’m puzzled by the reversal in the perception of and portrayal of George Allen by those who knew him those decades ago. Perhaps they’ve perceived him as a relatively harmless jerk as congressman and senator, but they can’t stand the idea of him as president? Or maybe it’s how people self-aggrandize, by belittling somebody that’s above them? But if that’s so, why start doing so now? I don’t claim to understand what’s going on, but I find it interesting.
It’s none too surprising that some of the stories have started coming out, courtesy of Ryan Lizza and The New Republic. Allen’s own sister, in her biography, describes how he broke her brother’s collarbone, threw the same brother through a plate-glass window, dragged her up the stairs by her hair, held her by her feet over Niagara Falls, and hoped to become a dentist because he liked the idea of being paid to make people suffer. (I’m reminded of the roman à clef written by Del. Dave Albo’s wickedly funny brother, Mike Albo, “Hornito: My Life Lie,” and his depiction of Del. Albo as a teenager. But that’s the topic of another blog entry.)
I’m not particularly interested in whether or not the specific stories of Sen. Allen’s escapades are true, but the portrait that emerges from these stories seems to confirm the impression of Allen as a sociopathic jerk. Lizza’s article may or may not represent the tip of the iceberg of Allen’s past impropriety, but it’s surely just the beginning of attacks on that impropriety.