Sunday, November 02, 2003

Does that thing have a Hemi?

Dean courts Bubba:

I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.

Some folks are having a field day with this quote. Granted, it was a stupid thing to say, in my opinion. However, I don’t think Dean was saying he was courting the racist, KKK sympathizer vote. Rather, it illustrates Dean’s uphill battle with being competitive in, much less winning, a single Southern state. The South is foreign soil to Dean. In fact, Dean understands Canadians better than he understands the South. He also thinks more highly of Canada than he does the southern United States. Okay, some of you reading this might say, “Well, hell, so do I.” One is certainly free to have that view, I suppose, but it is hard to win folks “Hearts and Minds” if you have a patronizing view of them. (e.g. Gen. Boykin in Iraq.) Especially if you choose to articulate it. In short, Dean’s view of the South is so stereotypical I suspect he thinks one can’t take a walk in the woods without being told to, “Sqeal like a pig, boy!”

Dean said something similar months ago, actually. I thought it sounded stupid then, too, but at least it came with a bit more context.

White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.
Howard Dean, DNC Winter meeting, February 21, 2003

There are several assumptions in Dean’s repeated comment. One is that white folks in pickups are poor. The pickup is common mode of transportation in the South, and a good pickup ain’t cheap. For some, one’s pick up is a sign of status. Some white folks drive pickups they have no intention of getting dirty by hauling anything messy. And heaven forbid they do anything that scratches the truck’s bed.

Another apparent assumption, unless he truly only wants the white folks who embrace the Confederate flag, is that the people who lack health insurance and send their kids to poor schools are so attached to the Confederate flag that they don’t leave home without it.

If his argument is one of economic opportunity, then what is the point of the repeated references to the Confederate flag and the pickup as an identifying characteristic? Why not just make the case that it was the party of FDR that brought such things as the Tennessee Valley Authority to the South and that government has always had a role advancing the economic interests of a region. Why not simply draw the connection between policy positions and their impact on the people in the region? Why resort to stereotypical characterizations of people? How does Dean intend to characterize typically Republican voters in other regions?

Dean tells the world how he intends to win over the “white folks” in the South in a way that implicitly states they’ve been stupid enough to not recognize they have been voting against their interest. There may be truth in that, just as there may be truth in the view that the Republican’s have become masters of deception in getting significant numbers of Americans everywhere to believe Republican policies serve middle-class and working-class interests. However, to convince someone they have been duped in a manner that makes them change their position instead of feeling insulted and becoming even more deeply entrenched requires a certain deftness and subtlety which Dean seems to consistently lack. A message that resonates with the angry is typically rejected by the unconvinced. He’s already won a good portion of the angry. That was the easy part.

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