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"America has two great dominant strands of political thought - conservatism, which, at its very best, draws lines that should not be crossed; and progressivism, which, at its very best, breaks down barriers that should never have been erected." -- Bill Clinton, Dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library, November 2004

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Tuesday, November 11, 2003


the failure that matters

posted by Aziz P. at Tuesday, November 11, 2003 permalink View blog reactions
It's well accepted that Dean didn't take too much damage from teh Confederate flag flap. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Kweisei Mfume and a whole host of liberal pundits have weighed in supporting what Dean was trying to say, and lambasting the other candidates for their attempt to play the race-pander card.

For the record, what Dean was trying to say was, people in the South vote against their economic interests, and to win their vote, we have to make a case to them as well. We cannot just lump them into a stereotype, and have to recognize that even if they have a Confederate flag on their truck, it doesn't mean that they are racist (though it is a emblem of racism to blacks in the North and the South). The GOP has courted the racist vote explicitly, but in doing so they have also made those non-racist Southerners (the majority!) feel under siege by the Democrats for their culture, and have successfully used the Confederate flag as a wedge issue between that majority and the Democratic candidates who speak to their self-interests.

Case in point: This column by Darrell Huckaby, an author in Rockdale County, Georgia. It's clear that Dean's attempt at inclusion, mis-statement, and subsequent apology all left a mixed and opposite impression among ordinary people such as Huckaby who are in fact the very people Dean was trying to draw in:

Now I want to go on record as saying that I do not own a pickup truck, and if I did I would probably have an American flag and a Georgia Bulldog sticker on it and not a rebel flag. But if I wanted to have a rebel flag on my truck, it would be my business and not Al Sharpton’s or Howard Dean’s. In fact, I know lots of people who have Confederate flags on their trucks who haven’t worn a sheet or a pointed hood in years. People like Howard Dean just don’t get it. Pride in the South and racism are not the same thing.
I’ll say that one more time for the slow learners. Southern pride and racism are not the same thing, and although hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan have hijacked the Confederate battle emblem, there are many, many, many Southerners who simply consider it a symbol of pride in their homeland. Making stereotypical remarks about these good people from 1,500 miles away is just as ignorant and backwards as making derogatory generalizations about any group of people.

Note that Dean failed to make it clear that he does NOT condemn the people who fly the Confederate flag, just the flag itself, as racist. It's not surprising that the nuance of Dean's position was lost, given that it passed through the small filter of the media and the bigger filter of Dean's own mouth. The result is that the very demographic who Dean was trying to reach out towards is forced into a defensive snarl.

Worse, the campaign dropped the ball when this author tried to get the facts:

I called Howard Dean’s campaign headquarters to see if I could get him to climb down off the fence he is sitting on. Honesty compels me to admit that I did tell a little white lie to the shrill-voiced lady who was manning his phone. I told her that I was a Georgian who owned a pickup truck with a Confederate flag, a gun rack and an “Eat More Possum” bumper sticker. I had one simple question for her. Did Mr. Dean want my vote?
She read me a prepared statement about inclusion.
Contrary to popular belief, I am an intelligent man. I was raised in the Methodist Church and graduated from a large Southern university. I know when someone is trying to avoid answering a question.
“Ma’am,” I told the voice on the phone. “I want a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Does Mr. Dean want the vote of Confederate flag-waving Southerners as previously stated, or does he not?
She still wouldn’t answer.
“If you will give me your name and number,” she told me, “someone will get back to you.”
I wasn’t sure if old Howard had to ask Jesse or Al before deciding, so I didn’t leave my number.
But I have some news for Howard Dean. Don’t expect to carry Georgia, sport.

If the account is true (and there's no reason to deny him the benefit of the doubt), then it's obvious that the campaign is so spooked by the political correctness of the flag issue that they are afraid to make a simple statement: we want your vote.

I think Mr. Huckaby is a reasonable man with the same amount of pride in his culture as you and I. But the rhetorical fog created by Dean's statement and the subsequent apology has slammed a door shut. This is the real damage that the Confederate flag flap has done.


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About Nation-Building

Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.