It’s been seven days since the Virginia blogosphere (through Not Larry Sabato) broke the “macaca incident” which is now a national story and shorthand for Senator Allen’s political foibles. The first commentators focused on Allen singling out a minority in a largely white audience and having some fun at his expense.
However, the part that the national media overlooked is the part that is really going to kill Allen this fall — his casual disdain for people (especially new immigrants) that live and work in Northern Virginia.
Allen’s mistake reminds me of the quote by a famous Southern general describing a rival who chose to ride with the Union: “he will regret the action but once and that will be continuously.”
Here’s why it will hurt him. Folks from Northern Virginia, especially from Fairfax County, get a lot of ribbing downstate for our “northern” ways. Like many stereotypes, there is a germ of legitimacy. But not all of us live in McMansions, drive an SUV or grew up in New Jersey. And being told (for the one hundredth time) by a fellow Virginian that you hail from the “occupied territories” or you are not a “real Virginian” grows tiresome. Until it gets annoying. And then you have to hear it from your U.S. Senator.
Now I am willing to bet my Fairfax High School letter jacket (vintage 1986) that no other member of the U.S. Senate would describe the most populous county as being an inauthentic part of his state. McCain? Obama? Anyone?
The irony is that Fairfax County is not just an important part of Virginia today — it always has been.
In 1775, a patriot and Fairfax County landowner named George Mason drafted the Fairfax County Declaration of Rights. It was first read at the courthouse to the County militia, then leaving to join the Continental Army. It formed the basis for the Bill of Rights expressed in the Virginia and United States Constitutions.
Mason’s Fairfax County neighbor? Just a guy named Washington. He was the head of the Army during the Revolutionary War. Pretty much kept it together when the war looked lost. Later did a couple terms as President. Some folks call him the Father of our Country.
In 1861, Fairfax County was caught square in the middle of the Civil War. For better or worse, the local white population largely voted for secession in April and then enlisted in Virginia regiments.
My mother’s great grandfather Thomas Moore served in Lee’s Army right through Appomattox, then put away the colors. After the War, he came home and started a law practice in the town of Fairfax. His son Walton later became a State Senator and then a U.S. Congressman. His 1887 nomination for State Senate was made by “Rooney” Lee who was a prominent Democrat in Fairfax County. Yes, he was Robert E. Lee’s eldest son.
In 1941, the sitting of the Pentagon in Northern Virginia changed everything. Since then, Fairfax County has been one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation with industries focused on national defense and information technology. The new suburbs overwhelmed the County’s traditional dairy farms.
In the last twenty years, that population explosion has taken on an increasingly international tinge. Folks from all over the world have come here to live, learn and do business at the very highest levels. In my law practice, I am lucky to represent business owners from Syria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Viet Nam, Thailand and Korea.
Each one is an American success story. Many came here fleeing Communism (my father-in-law in Centreville escaped from North Korea). Now they are an embodiment of the American dream. One of my favorite occupations is taking my wife’s family to places like Richmond or Williamsburg so they can experience the history that I learned as a child. Now that’s what Virginia is all about.
Each region in Virginia is authentic in its own inimitable way. Southwest Virginia is unique. So is Tidewater. So is Fairfax. Deciding which one is the “real Virginia” is an inherently bogus exercise. Let’s give it a rest.
P.S. Can any of you Southern historians guess the author of the above quote? Shouldn’t be hard if you hail from Patrick County. For bonus points, name the person he was speaking about.