Cardinal Rule: Honesty Can Actually Work

Here’s what doesn’t make any sense at all about those rhetorical implosions that have been occurring in the re-election campaign of Virginia Senator George Allen. As a prominent political figure and viable presidential contender, he presumably has access to some of the sharpest, savviest assistants, consultants and spinmeisters around.

But what have they been advising? Or does he just not listen?

Any public relations novice — or generically honest person — could have handled his “macaca” moment and those n-word accusations from the 1970s in a far less clumsy manner.

There’s an applicable, two-part cardinal rule.

Simply tell the truth – and do it right away. Don’t monkey around; don’t become a media serial. Don’t punch some newspaper’s Pulitzer ticket.

At its worst, the truth in the “macaca” case wasn’t going to cost Allen an election. That he stupidly uttered an obscure, off-the-cuff, racial pejorative — native to North Africa – could have been acknowledged and apologized for. It was an insensitively dumb, embarrassing gaffe – but only one day’s worth. A publicity speed bump, not a gaping, campaign sink hole.

Allen, at it turned out, was undoubtedly as familiar with the term as was his mother, who grew up in — Tunisia. But he inexplicably said he “made it up.” That was as untrue as it was unfathomable. It was also an insult to anyone sizing up a front runner who thought it didn’t much matter what he fed the public on this one. As a result, the story sprouted “legs” and was a fortnight’s fodder for political talking heads.

And it let his opponent, Vietnam vet-novelist-former Republican James Webb, back in the race. Big time.

As for those scarlet letter, n-word allegations, unless it stands for nincompoop, the cardinal rule is to admit such “that-was-(immature 20-something) then, this-is- (politically correct) now” indiscretions. Then apologize for them. And then immediately bridge to your agenda for America in 2006. The stuff, in effect, that really matters.

The less-than-subtle message: “I’m here to talk about the issues on the minds of most Americans, if not most members of the media. I’m here to talk about America’s priorities and how best to address them – not what I said while horsing around on campus a generation ago. Next question.”

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