thought of entitling this piece "An Open Letter to Howard Dean,"
but that seemed awkward, because I don't know the man and have little
enough reason to want to know him. I mean, he's a northern Democrat.
That necessarily means that he believes in whopping great list of
absurdities, most of which will involve creative use of state coercion
to better our lives, whether we want these favors or not. It would
be tedious to have to discuss those, in pretended dialogue with
him, now or ever.
I gave that title the go-by.
dialectically, I take up Howard Dean's cartoonish notions about
the South. He has famously said — just lately, but also back in
February — that he wants to broaden his party's appeal so as to
take in even those fellows who drive pickup trucks with Confederate
flags on them. All Hades broke loose, of course, and Dean has been
trying to weasel out of the whole thing ever since, but without
looking especially weak.
stupid, on the other hand, is apparently acceptable, when a man
wants to be ruler of the world and live in the Casa Alba
in Worldville-on-Potomac. There is a lot at stake. The various media
got all knotted up, and sharp fellows struck dramatic postures about
how offensive and appalling Dean's comments are supposed to have
Southerners have learned to expect this sort of thing. The sun still
rises of a morning. Often enough, we just don't care what
our northern brethren think, at least not in the way in which we
are supposed to care.
returning to Dean: Doing his best to seem defiant of his critics
while wriggling loose of the truck-and-flag controversy, he managed
to say, "I make no apologies for reaching out to poor white
the sheer finesse…
known many people of the pickup truck persuasion1–
and, yes, some of them had that flag — and I just don't think
that very many of them would cotton to being called "poor whites."
All these terms are a bit loaded, historically, you see, and not
just the ones about which we hear so much these days.
no, with predictable tin ear syndrome, Dean tries to appeal
to his imagined bloc of potential Southern white male voters by
telling them how feckless, hopeless, and in need of federal uplift
they are. No wonder most of these guys vote for the Republicans,
however shortsightedly; the Republicans don't insult them in quite
the same ways.
like the joke about the guy in the doctor's waiting room. Receptionist:
"Are you comfortable?" Patient, somewhat heatedly: "I
make a living."
the fellow in the joke is suffering from "false consciousness,"
maybe a team of sociologists armed with statistical indicators would
pronounce him objectively "poor."
and maybe he will vote — poor or not — for people who don't call
him names like that. Democrats can't imagine that anyone who is
— or thinks he is – making a living would vote for a Democrat
for President. What does that tell us about the Democratic Party?
really, there is no need for northern Democrats to stir up class
issues between strata of white Southerners. There are plenty of
qualified, locally produced demagogues available for such purposes.
It's just an embarrassment when northerners try to compete in this
the difference between a genuine Southern or Western populist and
a Yankee Progressive trying to sound like a populist. In this respect,
Dean reminds one of John Anderson, who was, in the words of historian
Clyde Wilson, "supported by well educated upper middle class
people who thought American problems were to be solved by turning
over power to such clear-minded and honorably motivated persons
not sure Howard Dean can sell his gospel of uplift. I think it was
John Randolph of Roanoke, who said that while many people see pity
as connected with compassion, he knew it to be affiliated with a
rather different emotion: contempt. Into the electoral gap created
by Democrats, step the Republicans, who do pretty much nothing for
this constituency. White Southerners vote Republican, I suppose,
because next-to-nothing slightly beats the less-than-nothing offered
them by the Democrats.
are other factors, but I can't deal with them all here.
we can't leave it at that: I want to help the Democrats out. I think
the Democratic National Committee should categorically reject
the votes of white Southerners. If that seems insufficient, they
can demand that these unneeded and unwanted voters be stricken from
the rolls. (It's been done before.) Since Democrats are fairly secure
with their other voting blocs in the South, this will save them
all kinds of time and money, because they won't need to campaign
in the South at all.
us some time, too – and headaches.
Dean, by sheer ineptitude, let himself in for an orgy of abuse from
his colleagues. His defenders have been saying that he meant well,
but sang his ballad of social betterment in the wrong key. Ah, yes,
he could carry a tune in a bucket, but for the sad circumstance
that his bucket's got a hole in it.3
far there seems to be little reason for a white Southerner to vote
for Howard Dean.
now we come to the crunch. Hell has frozen over, and if you haven't
noticed it, your thermometer is broken. This reopens the case.
Bush Gang have run the pickup truck of state into the sandy ditch
and are burning out the clutch in their frantic efforts to "stay
the course." Worse, they are getting a lot of people killed
— Americans, Iraqis, and others — for no very good reason, even
by their own utilitarian standards.
the same time, focused as they are on their maniacal foreign policy
adventures, they are running the money tap full out and pursuing
domestic policies of galloping corporatism and/or socialism at a
rate that would make FDR, the ADA, and Leon Trotsky rather dizzy.
This is doubtless the most fiscally irresponsible administration
since those of Ronald Reagan and FDR.
may yet be reason to vote for Howard Dean, if certain conditions
can be met. If he, or any other Democrat, could believably promise
a substantially saner foreign policy, we would be well on our way.
Dreaming a bit, one would like to hear about outright repeal
of the Patriot Act, along with its predecessors passed under previous
administrations (i.e., no tinkering and "reform" of these
laws) – and withdrawal from the Middle East.
course these conditions are quite ideal. They ought to be met, but
it is most unlikely they can or will be met. And, yes, the Democrats
could do a certain amount of domestic damage in power. It is, however,
hard to see how they could do more than the current administration
is doing, at home and abroad, short of adoption by the Democrats
of the Bush foreign policy.
- I am not
being entirely neutral here; I have owned at least three pickup
- Clyde Wilson,
"Up at the Forks of the Creek: In Search of American Populism,"
in From Union to Empire:
Essays in the Jeffersonian Tradition (Columbia, SC: Foundation
for American Education, 2003), p. 87.
- Hank Williams,
Sr., "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It."