This is going to be a surprising comment coming from me, all things considered. But here it is: I don’t have a problem at all with Howard Dean saying he wants to be the candidate for the guys with Confederate Flag stickers on their pickups. Really, I don’t. If the Democrats are going to win, they’re gonna need those guys. Oh my, yes they are.
Anyway, let’s do the political calculus on this thing. What does Dean lose by saying something like that? He upsets a certain number of Democratic voters early in the election cycle, who may decide to vote for someone else in the primaries. But if I may, let me suggest that Dean’s a done deal in the sense that barring a sudden and inexplicable collapse of support, he’s going to contest for the nomination all the way through. What he wins is the attention of the aforementioned Confederate sticker dudes, not all of whom are racist (just deluded as to what that flag represents), and not all of whom are stupid. I don’t expect any Democratic candidate to swing the majority of Rebel Boys his way, but I do think more might be in play than the RNC thinks, And maybe this puts Dean on their radar. Given the utter incompetence of the Democratic party in making its case to poor and working class white people, who vote for Republicans for inexplicable reasons, I would suggest Dean needed to make a statement like this to get his shot across the bow.
And honestly, now. Come November 2004, are the people offended by Dean’s Confederate comment not going to vote for him because of it? Would they rather have four more years of Bush? I don’t think so. They already made the Nader mistake once — even dumbass liberal freaks know better than to go down that road twice. Ultimately, there’s almost no long-term political downside for Dean, and he has a lot to gain. At the very least, when it comes the Rebel Boys, they’ll consider Dean first before the other candidates (excepting possibly Clark). Dean wins coming and going.
Let’s call the “Confederate” moment for what it was: Dean’s “Sister Souljah” maneuver. Worked for Clinton, who in the later years of his presidency was hailed by Toni Morrison as the first black president, and whose current offices are nestled quite comfortably in Harlem. It can work for Dean.
It is just cynical politics on Dean’s part? Could be. Or he could be telling the truth: Someone needs to go ask all the Rebel Boys what they really get out of voting for someone like Bush, whose economic policies ram all working class people of every color right up the cheeks. If the other Democratic candidates are too worried about political correctness not to speak the language these guys talk and address them on their terms, I don’t see how they can expect to get their vote in 2004. And if they’re not planning to try to get the vote of millions of southern white guys, then they’ve pretty much already lost and can go home now.
I don’t like Confederate flags, but allow me to suggest that being fond of the Battle Jack doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of good government — if for no other reason than the same federal government that they get is the same federal government the rest of us get. The other Democratic candidates seem to be willing to make the voters come to them; Dean is willing to go to the voters, and risk short-term alienation for long-term benefits. I think it’s a smart move. I would suggest to you it’s probably not the last time we’ll see something like this.