Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth is the campaign worker for Jim Webb. This is a great choice.
Dec. 16, 2006 | Sometimes, for just a moment, nothing makes sense. The senator who would be president stands on the dais. It is a bright summer day. The branches of trees, still green, sway gently in the breeze. Republican George Allen is feeling good, and the crowd likes him. Almost everyone thinks he will win reelection. Then he says something. “Let’s give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” No one knows what has happened.
But the confusion does not last long. Over the next week, people consult dictionaries in several languages. They find that the word “macaca” is a term for monkey, used in some places around the world as a racial epithet. At first, the senator recoils from the claims of insensitivity, refusing to apologize. Then he apologizes hesitantly, then profusely. At first, the senator’s advisors say the word was a nickname for a mohawk haircut. Then they say the word meant nothing at all.
As days stretch into weeks, a video of that moment, with the senator onstage, spreads over the Internet like a sickness, entering popular culture and political history. Months later in the fall, when the votes are counted, it becomes clear that a successful politician has stumbled badly over a 20-year-old with a camcorder. The career of George Allen, the former front-runner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, is in shambles. And when he finally concedes defeat two days after the 2006 election, he has not only lost a seat that was considered safe but also handed Democrats control of the Senate, completing their takeover of both houses of Congress.
It must be said that the young man, Shekar Ramanuja Sidarth, is not much of a cameraman. In the macaca footage, his hand shakes, though he manages to hold Allen in the frame as the senator points him out, an Indian-American in a crowd of whites. But in the weeks that follow, Sidarth does not shy from the spotlight that surrounds him. He undergoes a transformation of sorts, appearing on CNN and the network news, giving long interviews to the pen-and-paper press. He becomes a symbol of politics in the 21st century, a brave new world in which any video clip can be broadcast instantly everywhere and any 20-year-old with a camera can change the world. He builds a legacy out of happenstance. Continue reading