Jewish World Review Nov. 7, 2003/ 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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A word to Dixie: Drop dead, please | There's a reason why nobody ever lost money on a book about the War of Northern Aggression. A hundred and thirty-eight years later, the remembrance of those four violent and heroic years still, as Satchell Paige might put it, "angries up the blood." It's the story that never grows cold, old, or fully told.

Marse Robert, Stonewall and his boys would get a hoot — and maybe even a rebel yell — out of the way their old battle flag has stirred up a presidential debate in the union they tried, peaceably, to leave. They would no doubt grieve, along with old Abe and his boys, about how easy it is for historical illiterates in our modern day to be taken semi-seriously as candidates for president.

You might have thought that Howard Dean had suggested setting fire to the White House again when he made the perfectly commonsensical suggestion that to be a genuine contender he would have to "be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks."

His clumsy formulation, however, was what you might expect from the governor of a precious little boutique named Vermont. Good old boys, as the editorialist for the Arkansas Democrat Gazette noted, do not fly Confederate flags in their pickups. The gun rack goes in the truck; the Confederate battle flag goes on the truck, attached to the radio aerial, preferably on the driver's side.

Mr. Dean should have known better than to use the battle flag, with its blood-stirring St. Andrew's cross, to illustrate his point. The bigots, both the cracker bigots in the South and the black bigots and the bigoted whites who pander to them in the North, have given to the Confederate battle flag a lethality it rarely projected even at Chancellorsville or First and Second Manassas. Some day we may be grown-ups again, and can talk rationally about our history, if anybody remembers it, without lapsing into hysteria fed by ignorance and loutish rhetoric. Not, alas, today.

But the governor's point should be well taken by any Democrat who wants to win, rather than merely parade his own stainless conscience before an audience of oafs, clods and dimwits. Democrats can't win the presidency without the South. They never have. This means that the nominee, no matter how politically correct he (or even she) may aspire to be, has to find a way to appeal even to Southern whites, many of whom (like Bill Clinton) are descended from the Confederate soldiers (very, very few of whom owned slaves) who set the standard by which battlefield valor and selfless sacrifice would forever be measured.

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Some of us who don't necessarily thrill to the sound of Howard Dean's voice were nevertheless ready to cheer when he first told his critics to get lost, that he was only practicing the realpolitik that wins elections. But the next day he capitulated, taking refuge in the therapeutic language so dear to our neurotic age, offering the boilerplate "apology" of politicians caught at saying true things in plain language. He regretted any "pain" he may have caused to whoever. Or whatever.

The governor's plain talk and the reaction of the other gong-show contestants enlivened what was otherwise the dreariest debate so far, conducted before an audience of know-nothing teenagers (some of whom looked to be on the back side of 30) eager to ask what the Wall Street Journal described as "underpants" questions, as in the famous question put to Bill Clinton about whether he wore boxers or briefs.

One young scholar asked John Kerry, the French-looking senator from Boston, what he would do if he were the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Mr. Kerry, who looked as if he were about to say that he wanted to convert the Bosox to a soccer team, went on at length about how he prepared himself for the presidency by rooting for the Sox ("I know adversity."). The Rev. Al Sharpton, in an off-camera gibe, told Howard Dean: "Imagine if I said that I wanted to be the candidate of people with helmets and swastikas." (Since this famous divine calls Jews "bloodsuckers" and led protests against a Jewish merchant in Harlem that eventually cost seven lives, that's not difficult to imagine.)

A spokesman for Wesley Clark, the mad bomber of Bosnia, said the governor's battle-flag comment demonstrated that the governor "just has the wrong idea about how you should communicate with Southerners." John Edwards, the trial lawyer who rents his mouth to any client with enough cash to pay the tab, said Southerners don't need advice from the governor. And so it went, for two endless hours in which only Dick Gephardt looked good. He skipped this gong show.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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