Dr. Howard Dean was born in New York City and has spent his life there and in Vermont. I guess he’s about as Yankee a Yankee as you can get. Yet he reached out to Dixie and got burned by his fellow Democrats.
The thing to note is that Dr. Dean first made his remark about wanting the votes of guys with Confederate decals on their pickup trucks at a meeting of national Democrats about three months ago. His remarks drew thunderous applause.
It was only after he became a front-runner that his tag-along rivals decided to raise a stink. One opined that Dean was stereotyping Southerners. Another accused him of being a racist. It was all much ado about nothing.
Most people knew immediately what Dr. Dean meant by his Confederate remarks. He knows that unless the Democratic Party appeals once more to working men and women in the South, it will remain a minority party of extreme feminists, extreme environmentalists, silk-stocking socialists and the professional civil-rights crowd who live in comfort around the Washington Beltway. I think he wants to revive the Democratic Party of Harry Truman.
While it is fashionable for Democrats now to say they are fiscal conservatives and social liberals, they need to understand that most Southerners are social conservatives and fiscal liberals. Nobody embraced Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal more warmly than the South. While most Southerners are opposed to abortion on demand, to gay marriage, pornography, etc., they are extremely patriotic and not at all unwilling to accept federal aid for their communities and for themselves.
As for race, I don’t think it is any longer an issue with most white Southerners. As I mill around with white Southerners and hang out with the Confederate flag folks, I never hear any racist jokes or snide remarks about blacks. In fact, the subject never comes up. Of course, there is a minority of bigots, but my guess is you could put every member of the Ku Klux Klan in the Southern states in one small gymnasium. Still, I can speak only from a white perspective. Blacks might see the situation differently.
As for the Confederate flag, its meaning, like that of all symbols, is in the eyes of the beholder. I don’t begrudge the fact that some blacks see it as a racist symbol. Some yahoos used to wave it, though it seems to be forgotten that the same yahoos also waved the American flag.
To me, the Confederate flag is a symbol of the valor of the Confederate soldiers who fought well to preserve the constitutional republic. I know the official PC version today is that the war was all about slavery, but it wasn’t. As Alexander Stephens said, "Slavery was the question but not the principle." But that’s a subject that will probably be debated forever.
At any rate, I’m sorry that some people are offended by the Confederate flag, but no one has a constitutional right to not be offended. Yet people who revere the Confederate flag do have a right to display it, whether others find it offensive or not. That is a free-speech issue. We can’t have a free society if we’re going to censor anything that offends us.
Personally, I don’t think most blacks give a hoot about the Confederate flag one way or the other. In the referendum on the Mississippi flag, which incorporates the Confederate flag, folks voted overwhelmingly to keep it, and about 30 percent of the blacks who voted also voted to keep it. The flag was a big issue for liberal white politicians and chamber-of-commerce types, but apparently was no big deal for ordinary Mississippians, both black and white.
The working men and women of America of all races know they have more important things to worry about than historic flags and monuments. I wish Dr. Dean had stuck to his guns and not apologized. You can’t appease an insincere critic by apologizing.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner.
© 2003 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.