• With Hell Frozen Over, Should We Vote For Howard Dean?

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    I
    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.

    So
    I gave that title the go-by.

    Proceeding
    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.

    Looking
    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
    been.

    Less-than-reconstructed
    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.

    But
    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
    people."

    Oh,
    the sheer finesse…

    I've
    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.

    But,
    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.

    It's
    like the joke about the guy in the doctor's waiting room. Receptionist:
    "Are you comfortable?" Patient, somewhat heatedly: "I
    make a living."

    Maybe
    the fellow in the joke is suffering from "false consciousness,"
    maybe a team of sociologists armed with statistical indicators would
    pronounce him objectively "poor."

    Yes,
    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?

    But,
    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
    arena.

    It's
    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
    as themselves."2

    I'm
    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.

    There
    are other factors, but I can't deal with them all here.

    But
    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.

    Saves
    us some time, too – and headaches.

    So
    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

    Thus
    far there seems to be little reason for a white Southerner to vote
    for Howard Dean.

    But
    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.

    The
    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.

    At
    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.

    There
    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.

    Of
    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.

    Where
    does that leave us? Well, it leaves us wondering whether getting
    rid of the Bush Gang trumps everything else. I think it does.

    Notes

    1. I am not
      being entirely neutral here; I have owned at least three pickup
      trucks.
    2. 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.
    3. Hank Williams,
      Sr., "My Bucket's Got A Hole In It."

    November
    13, 2003


    Joseph R. Stromberg [send him
    mail
    ] is holder of the JoAnn B. Rothbard Chair in History at
    the Ludwig von Mises Institute
    and a columnist for LewRockwell.com
    and Antiwar.com.

    Joseph
    Stromberg Archives


            
            

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