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Thursday, November 06, 2003
 
For All the People

Something that's popped into my head during the back-and-forth of the Dean Confederate Flag imbroglio: Why do we assume that racism is the only dimension to people with these stickers on their pickups?

Many of these people are bigots. Most, if not all, have idealized antebellum southern culture to an extent that it no longer reflects historical realities. But they're also people and fellow-citizens. They're voters. A vote is a vote is a vote, and we want more of them than our opponents get.

Democrats are the party that publicly acknowledges racism's existence and devastating legacy. Republicans openly pander to bigots with things like the Southern Strategy and coded allusions to "tradition" and Confederate symbols, all the while denying that racism has any meaningful impact on society whatever.

It's the republicans who have been cynical here, not Howard Dean. Pandering to working-class southern whites' bigotry while sponsoring policies positively harmful to their wallets, their schools, their environment, and their families, republicans reduce their constituents to the meanest bit in the bundle. Dean, however clumsily, raised the possibility that, although we may be unable to persuade bigots to give up their racial prejudices, we may find at least some common ground and work together on issues of mutual interest.

Democrats' attacks on Dean are yet another example of liberal orthodoxy gone too far. The reason republicans are able to win this constituency on only one issue (and one that costs no money, to boot) is that too many democrats have written them off as subhumans incapable of redemption and unworthy of attention. They've got nowhere else to go and take what they're offered.

Yes, the word "confederate" pushes a red-hot button. Yes, any and every racist statement and action must be vigorously opposed. Yes, persons of good conscience loathe the beliefs of a lot of the people to whom Dean was referring. But they are more than racists; they work, pay taxes, have children, are in the armed forces, pay doctor bills, and plan to retire someday. Maybe if we get their attention by representing their other interests, they might someday listen to what we have to say in other areas as well.