"Guys with Confederate Flags in Their Pickup Trucks"
Did anyone else note last night how self-defeating the Democrats have become? First, they ganged up on Howard Dean at the Rock the Vote debate because he said in too-plain language what needs to be said about the Democratic party. Then, as a demonstration of how correct Dean is, Democrats managed to lose two more governorships in the South. Nice work.
Let's break down what Dean said
: "I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Most of the attention has been placed on the end of this statement: "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." According to every other Democratic candidate, this language is code for "drooling, illiterate, racist Southern rednecks with mullets and no teeth who marry their sisters and never ever vote Democrat." Now, I'm willing to make a rather cagey proposition here--not all people with Confederate flags in their trucks are racist.
That's not to say that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of racism past and present or that it is not insensitive to be driving around with a Confederate flag in the window of your pickup or that the Confederate flag painted on the roof of that farmhouse on I-71 between Cincinnati and Columbus doesn't bug the crap out of me. But what I'm saying is that placing a Confederate flag in one's truck does not necessarily correlate with being a racist. More importantly, nor does it correlate with someone who will always vote Republican.
What else can the flag mean, then? It can be the symbol of someone who feels disenfranchised in America, that's what. It's a way for poor whites, who are no more empowered in the South than poor blacks, to feel powerful. It's a way for them to stand on something--their heritage--that they feel lifts them above other people. It says, "Dammit, I may be poor now, but I come from the South and the South used to be great." In short, in some cases it's a symbol of exactly who the Democratic party used to court, back when the party was about helping people who don't already have it all, not telling them how stupid they are.
So, the idea that Dean wants to reach out to these people is great. Because look at yesterday's results in the races for governor in Mississippi and Kentucky--Democrats lost
. And while I'm not saying that the Democrats lost only because the Demcoratic party treats poor white southerners like they're idiots (there were unique circumstances in each instance), I think that's part of the reason. But all the other Democratic candidates are too busy falling all over themselves to appeal to their limited party base to grasp that fact.
And the other part of Dean's statement--"I still want to be the candidate for..." What does that mean? It means, "I want to get the following people to vote for me." It doesn't mean, "I agree with everything the following people believe in." At least, once upon a time, being a candidate didn't mean agreeing with everything your constituency says. In fact, candidates used to challenge people to better themselves; they didn't just pet them on the head and rub their bellies and tell them, "You're so right." But now, Democrats walk around telling educated liberals that they're right, and unions that they're right, and southern blacks that they're right, and movie stars that they're right, without standing up and saying, "This is what I believe in, and while we disagree about some things, I think we agree on more things, and if you elect me I'll fight for you in the best way I know how."
I believe that is what Dean meant when he said that he wants to appeal to people with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. He said, "I'm a doctor from Vermont, and you're a blue-collar worker in Alabama, and while I don't agree with you hanging the Confederate flag in the window of your truck, we agree on more things than we disagree on, and I'm willing to fight to makes things better for you, and maybe you'll come to agree that you don't need that Confederate flag in your window." And while there may have been ways of saying it that were less likely to throw the Kerrys, Edwardses, and Liebermans into a tizzy, I'm glad Dean said just what he said. I respect him for it.