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Fried: Schaffer's Macaca Moment in the Marianas
By Eric Fried
April 30, 2008
About the author:
Eric Fried hopes Bob Schaffer keeps this story going at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is Bob Schaffer having his macaca moment over the Mariana Islands?
If you have forgotten, or never knew, “macaca” was the infamous racial epithet that sunk the 2006 re-election campaign (and presidential hopes) of Virginia Sen. George Allen. Flustered by an opposing campaign volunteer videotaping him, Allen hurled the derogatory term (used by French colonials comparing native Africans to macaque monkeys) at S.R. Sidarth, a native-born Virginian of Indian ancestry. Though Allen eventually apologized, after trotting out multiple non-credible explanations for his outburst, his campaign manager never did, instead aggressively attacking the media for reporting the story and portraying his client as the victim. The genius who drove Allen's campaign into the ditch was “Dirty” Dick Wadhams, now managing Bob Schaffer's run for Colorado's open U.S. Senate seat (while simultaneously running the Colorado Republican Party).
Though you'd get no clue from reading our moribund local daily, the story all over the Denver media and burning up the blogosphere revolves around then-Fort Collins Congressman Schaffer's lavish 1999 junket to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory notorious for its near-slavery working conditions. To cut to the heart of this twisted and sordid tale, imprisoned ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and indicted ex-Congressional Majority Leader Tom Delay were spreading big bucks around to keep a “Made in the U.S.A.” label on these sweatshop goods while exempting the territory from U.S. labor laws. The Senate finally closed this loophole earlier this month on a 91-4 vote.
So how did this long-forgotten issue come back from the dead? Amazingly, Schaffer himself revived it! In a Denver Post profile, he pointed to the Marianas as a model for the kind of guest worker program he'd like to see adopted nationally to help fix our broken immigration system. That set the scribes to researching the 1999 trip, complete with travel arrangements handled by Abramoff's firm, free accommodations for Bob and his wife Maureen at a beach resort, meetings with Abramoff clients like the Saipan Garment Manufacturers' Association, and some lovely parasailing lessons. The textile factory owners told Bob that labor conditions were peachy keen and all the reports of workers imported from China and Bangladesh under false pretenses, housed in barracks surrounded by barbed wire, laboring 12 hours a day, seven days a week, desperately trying to make their quotas, were just a smear campaign cooked up by union bosses. And so Bob dutifully reported back. Mission accomplished.
When the dirty laundry re-aired, Wadhams used the same tactic that worked so well in Virginia that it tipped control of the entire U.S. Senate to the Democrats. He belligerently blamed the media and portrayed his client as the victim. When the story did not blow away from Dick's bluster, Bob went on talk radio to explain that he hardly knew Abramoff, and that the trip was sponsored by a California-based religious group (cue the herald angels) called the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). According to the Post article, TVC often “acted virtually as a political arm of Abramoff's lobbying operation.”
One group not buying Schaffer's explanation is the anti-abortion movement, which should be firmly in his camp. Colorado Right to Life accused him of ignoring the well-documented practice of forced abortions when factory workers get pregnant. Steve Curtis, head of American Right to Life Action and a former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, told the Post "the pro-life movement will no longer give a pass to candidates like Bob Schaffer which should be firmly in his camp. Colorado Right to Life accused him of ignoring the well-documented practice of forced abortions when factory workers get pregnant. Steve Curtis, head of American Right to Life Action and a former chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, told the Post "the pro-life movement will no longer give a pass to candidates like Bob Schaffer who look the other way when Chinese women are forced to abort their children." Both groups reportedly asked to meet with Schaffer, who declined. Besides, Schaffer noted that in his five days there, “I did not observe a forced abortion.” Um, Bob, they probably don't do that at the resort pool or right in front of visiting Congressmen. Maybe in a back room somewhere, ya think?
You say macaca, I say Mariana, let's call the whole thing off!