Thursday, November 04, 2004


Like other writers on subjects liberally political, I had hoped that today would mark the second day of soul searching on the part of the party formerly in power, to discover how it had squandered the mandate of the people. Such is not to be, and so, with torch in one hand and sturdy rope in another, I'm going looking for the heart of the Opposition.

By some strange, prophetic turn of events, one year ago, this report came concerning a remark by Howard Dean during an interview:
"I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks," the former Vermont governor said in an interview published Saturday in the Des Moines Register. "We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats."
The remark is further illuminated by this excerpt of the same candidate's speech to the Democratic National Committee:
"White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us, and not [Republicans], because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too."
The other Democratic primary candidates villified Dean for these remarks. This comment by John Edwards took one tack:
"The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do." He told Dean the remarks were condescending. "The people I grew up with, the vast majority of them, they don't drive around with Confederate flags on pickup trucks," Edwards said.
This, of course, is hyperbole. The last thing Southerners actually need is to hover one car breakdown away from losing their jobs, their homes, and their health.

Al Sharpton took another, predictable tack:
The Rev. Al Sharpton told Dean: "You are not a bigot, but you appear to be too arrogant to say, 'I'm wrong,' and go on."
A couple of days later Dean said:
"I apologize for it. I think it's time to move on. The people who are most concerned about this are the people who are with us. I think we'll be fine."
As those who suffered this columnist's private Boring Diatribes before this blog was born may remember, I thought this apology was a terrible mistake.

I was an early supporter of Howard Dean. Coming from a small, rural state, he had exactly the right take on the Democratic Party. Had I been advising the Dean campaign at the time, as some of my readers may remember, I would have told him to respond to the criticism of his remark in this manner:
"The rest of you can continue to stay safely in the echo chamber of preaching to the choir, but I believe the message of the Democratic Party, that upholds the efforts of honest working people to make a decent living, to care for their families, and to help their neighbors, is a message they're longing to hear. They want to know that people like us, who devote their careers to public service, are serving them, not Washington lobbyists in $2000 suits. We are the Democratic Party, the party of the living wage and the 40-hour workweek, the party of Social Security, and of Medicaid, the authors of the programs that help so many neighbors in this great nation support so many of their fellows that they may never meet. We are in this together. That is the message of our party. So, if I am guilty of reaching beyond what you gentleman think of as an insular consituency that does not need to look outside its circle of true believers for support, so be it. You are wrong. Everyone in this country should know that we believe in clothing the naked, in feeding the hungry, that we believe in making certain that anyone who puts in a hard day's work receives a hard day's pay, and isn't one small misfortune away from finding his family homeless and hungry. We are the Democratic Party, and I invite all of America to join us in building a better future for all our children, rich and poor, black, white, Asian, Latino, immigrants and natives. We are here to fight for your pursuit of happiness."
That is MY Democratic Party. And the repudiation offered to its current incarnation by the American people in this past election shows how far it has gone astray.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I certainly agree with the basic assertion that Dean realized a need to expand the reach of the party beyond "preaching to the choir" that was widely missed by the other candidates. However, the "condescending" label assigned by Edwards also rings with truth. Anytime a northerner uses a broad-brush label like pickup-driving, Confederate-flag waving Southerners, he's going to hurt his chances with the demographic that is experiencing the biggest growth and hurting the Dems the most - that is SUV-driving, well-educated, middle and upper-class Southerners who believe in Creationism and literal "evil", and have a Jesus fish on the back bumper. This election proved to be much less practical (jobs and other economic indicators, dying troops) and much more philosophical (good vs. evil, straight vs. gay) than any in recent memory. The winning ethos was "we are right, others are evil". What we need is Enlightenment II. As long as more and more well-educated (by U.S. standards) citizens believe Evolution is a fallacy and Creationism is gospel, we are in deep shit. We're losing the battle of the abstract, and when did Howard Dean ever address that?

10:51 AM  
Blogger Antonius said...

A fair riposte. This is not an ex-post-facto argument for a Dean candidacy; that question was decided. I've made reference to the very problem of enlightenment that you address in at least one earlier post. Reductio was actually in agreement with the idea that this election was about good vs. evil, he just had a different opinion which side was which.

2:57 PM  

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