Howard Dean wusses out
As I predicted, only even faster, Howard Dean was forced back inside the PC box. The Vermont governor’s remarks about the Democrats’ need to appeal to the kind of Southern white who has a Confederate flag on his pickup truck came up in the *very next* debate. During the event itself, Dean gave an admirably peppery defense, and the early versions of the Associated Press account said he refused to apologize.I’ve already said my $.02 about why there is nothing objectionable about Dean’s remarks in the first place and I compared the other candidates’ reactions to Pavlov’s dogs slobbering on cue to a bell, just from habit even though there’s no food there. Dean got “good for him” kudos from such commentators as Andrew Sullivan and Rod Dreher (these are words to similar effect Rod wrote later, as the original links I used then are dead; VJM 5 Oct. 07).
But in between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon, something happened. Maybe those cajones that Sullivan and Dreher so admired had to be surrendered and put into a blind trust for the duration of the campaign. In Wednesday’s later versions of that AP story, Dean *does* apologize, and a close look at the wording of the story makes it clear just how abject he had become. Here are the money grafs (I can’t find this online now, Lexis could confirm if needed; VJM 5 Oct. 07):
Later, he called the AP to clarify the comments in his speech.
“That was an apology. You heard it from me,” Dean said. “It was a remark that inflicted a lot of pain on people for whom the flag of the Confederacy is a painful symbol of racism and slavery.”
Still defensive, Dean said he stood by his broader point that Democrats must court Southern whites who have voted for Republicans and received nothing in return.
“My remarks were misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues” in the race, he told the AP. Dean called and apologized to rival Al Sharpton, who had challenged Dean on the debate stage.
Note the wording: *he* called the AP. It’s possible there was some maneuvering by handlers beforehand, but front-running candidates just don’t, as a matter of routine, solicit interviews with news outlets, particularly one as ubiquitous and anonymous as the Associated Press. He emphasized that it *was* an apology: “You heard it from me.” This was a major act of damage control.
It’s not from the candidate, but we also get this lovely bit from a South Carolina DNC member: “My God. Couldn’t he have simply said we need to appeal to the ‘Bubba vote’ or ‘good ol’ boy vote’?” But just calling them “Bubbas” or “good ol’ boys” doesn’t change anything about them — they’re presumably the same people who (tend to) put Rebel flags on their pickups.
All right, lemme see if I’ve got this straight: It’s OK to solicit the votes of Southern whites who have Rebel iconography. But it’s not OK to note that they sport such symbols, even for the purposes of saying “back us over other matters and put down your offensive symbol.” It is not OK to use that brandished Confederate flag as a short-hand way of referring to those working-class and poor Southern whites, because that’s hayseed stereotyping, according to Southern Democrats as conservative as Zell Miller or as (relatively) liberal as John Edwards: “Some of the greatest civil-rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South. To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive,” he said at the weekend. But “Bubba” and “good ol’ boy” are acceptable ways to refer to the *exact* *same* *people* who are sporting those symbols. *Now* their support has been ritually purified, like a Temple priest, I guess. And of course, in today’s apology-sodden climate, you beg forgiveness for your comments, which you maintain are not racist and were “misunderstood, of course, with the help of my colleagues.” But you still must personally solicit pardon from one of those colleagues who distorted your remarks. Is it because that candidate is black (three guesses, “yes” or no”), even though the icon is supposedly offensive to *all*, white and black alike. And actually you only solicit one of the two black candidates — doesn’t Carol Moseley-Braun count as black (like Clarence Thomas)? Doesn’t NOW’s endorsement make her a major player?
Actually, I’m not confused about one thing. The way this contretemps played out over the past three days — the innocence of Dean’s original remark, the speed with which the others piled on, and the even greater speed with which Dean then backed off — is one more nail in the Democratic coffin in the South as the party of South-hating liberals. Both an Orlando Sentinel columnist and Sen. Edwards know how this will play out. In Tuesday’s debate, the senator told Dean: “The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do.” Confederate symbology is generally not an issue in Southern politics, but when it gets made into one, Southern whites tend to close ranks. It’s not 6th century Sparta, but the South is as close as America gets to an honor-based culture. Most Southerners (including myself during the 5 years I lived in Georgia) don’t fly the Confederate flag for a variety of reasons, but they have an acute nose for realizing when they are being dissed and held at contemptuous arm’s length over it. That’s all an honor-based culture needs to hear, and no Deanesque talk about health insurance for your kids is gonna matter at that point.
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