It happens every few years: a rash of politicians decide to let their guard down, get a little too relaxed, and start saying what they really think about race. Call it racial honesty disorder, or RHD.

Sometimes there's one grand, train-wreck case of RHD, like when a tipsy Trent Lott began to wax nostalgic for Jim Crow at a holiday party in 2002.

This week, it's exploded into an all-out epidemic.

First there was Virginia incumbent Sen. George Allen's macaca moment, a vocabulary lesson for us all when it became clear that he had called a 20-year old South Asian member of the audience a monkey. He apologized, in the usual political sort of way -- but didn't atone for also telling the native of Fairfax, Va., "welcome to America."

Perhaps it's better that Allen didn't apologize for offense #2, sometimes it only makes things worse. That was the case when Florida congressional candidate Tramm Hudson -- while apologizing for an earlier offensive statement -- only dug himself in deeper:

I grew up in Alabama. I understand, uh, I know from experience, that blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know how to swim.

Throw in Andrew Young's comments yesterday, showing his civil rights credentials by celebrating the demise of mom-and-pop stores run by "Jews, Koreans and Arabs," especially at the hands of the company he works worked for, Wal-Mart, and you can see what a problem RHD has become.

These RHD moments are usually brushed off as "slips," although -- as will be likely in Mr. Hudson's case -- they can also become scandals that sink careers. They might be better viewed inevitable and healthy glimpses into our nation's racial subconscious -- or consciousness, since these views seem to be rarely far below the surface.

It's also fascinating to see what's considered scandalous, and what's not. I was reminded of this while reading Diane Roberts' fantastic personal history of Florida, "Dream State" (new paperback version available!), in which she relates a flash of RHD experienced by Jeb Bush, when he first ran for governor of the state:

The governor's had enough trouble with African American voters, too, ever since the 1994 campaign, when some reporter asked him what he planned to do for black people, and he replied, "Nothing."

And the band played on.