Jewish World Review Nov. 5, 2003 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Michael Graham

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Going down in Dixie, Dem-style! | Well, that didn't last long.

One month ago, "NASCAR Dads" were all the buzz among Democratic presidential candidates. These white, rural southerners they believed should be energized by the Left's appeals of class warfare and high tariffs were suddenly en vogue. John Edwards and Wesley Clark openly touted their ability to draw these voters, described by the New York Times as "Bush Republicans who could be won over if a Democratic man's man came along."

Targeting these voters makes a certain political sense, given that if Al Gore had succeeded in carrying even one southern state (Tennessee springs to mind), he would be president today. Only three Democrats — Gore, Mondale and McGovern — have ever accomplished the near-impossible task of losing the entire South and, as you'll note, they're all missing a certain high-profile government job from their resume.

Enter Howard Dean — not exactly a "man's man," but he sees his party's problem. And so he told a reporter that he'd like to be "the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks. We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats."

That's when all redneck-bashing Hell broke loose.

Every single Democratic presidential candidate rushed to the nearest microphone to denounce Dean's "outrageous" statements. It was a bidding war of rhetoric, with each candidate trying to outdo the other in piling on the Southern Cross.

Sen. John Kerry, (D-His Wife's Late Husband's Fortune) called Dean's statements "craven and pander[ing] to lovers of the Confederate flag. I'd rather be the candidate of the N.A.A.C.P. than the N.R.A."

Sen. Joe Lieberman called the statement "irresponsible and reckless." Even the "man's men," Sen. John Edwards and Wesley Clark, got their kicks in. Clark made an ad hominem (flag-inem?) attack on "the divisiveness the Confederate flag represents," and demanded candidate denounce it at once. Sen. Edwards took a slightly different tack — he denied any such flag-flying southerners even exist: "To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive."

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And suffice it to say that Al Sharpton's comments were a) exactly what you'd expect and b) involved references to Nazis.

All of which accomplishes…what? Does anyone really believe that New England's Howard "Socialized Medicine" Dean is a closet Confederista? Of course not. He was simply acknowledging his party's problem of repelling moderate southern Democrats.

And how did his fellow presidential wanna-bes react? By bashing the snot out of those Democrats, accusing them of racism and intolerance. And it worked. At Tuesday night's debate, Dean himself called the flag "loathsome" and "racist."

Oh, yeah, Howie — they're going to love you down in Dixie next November.

Now, readers of my book Redneck Nation (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. ) know that I am no friend of the Confederate flag or those who cling to it. And I'm certainly not suggesting that these Democrats (or anyone else) should ignore the sometimes ugly history of the Confederate banner.

But when Democratic candidates denounce every sighting of this flag as a return of the Klan, they only succeed in reminding white southerners that Democrats just don't get it. Few southerners actually care about the flag, but they love the South it stands for. They're sensitive to suggestions by Yankees that there's something fundamentally wrong with being southern, and no matter how these candidates couch their statements, that's exactly what southern voters hear.

What makes the Confederate flag such a problematic symbol for Democrats to attack is that it resonates in so many different ways. The flying of the flag itself isn't that common or popular. But Democrats who urge the guy down the street to take down his flag sends many messages.

One message is that they're offended by the flag, perhaps for legitimate reasons. Another is that the South itself offends them. Another is that they like telling people what to do, but would probably never tell a black American or Hispanic American to take their flags down. And still another is that they're allies of race-obsessed political organizations that appear to many reasonable people to be doing more to inflame racial problems than to bridge them.

Only one of these is a potentially positive message for white, moderate voters who support Democrats at the state and local level. The rest are all reminders that Democrats don't seem to like white southerners. Which wouldn't be a big deal, except for the fact that no Democrat has ever won the White House without carrying at least four southern states.

OK, so tell me again Democrats how your redneck-stompin' rodeo is a good thing?

Congressman Richard Gephardt's contribution to the Dean brouhaha was to claim that white voters sporting Confederate flag bumper stickers and the like "disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights." In other words, they're all racists.

"I don't want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks," Gephardt said.

Don't worry, Dick: You won't.

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JWR contributor Michael Graham is a talk show host and author of the highly acclaimed "Redneck Nation: How the South Really Won the War." To comment, please click here.


Recall democracy
Butting heads
The sweet and down load
07/15/03: Keep your eyes on the lies
07/08/03: ‘LIBERIALS’
07/01/03: Our Strom
06/24/03: Like white on Rice
06/20/03: Security begins at home
06/16/03: DEAR HIL—
06/11/03: Madame Hillary's Lessons for Young Ladies
06/03/03: War games
05/28/03: A few small reparations
05/22/03: Springtime for Hitler?

© 2003, Michael Graham