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11/05/2003

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R  Wells

Regarding Dean's flag comments, and Decembrist's words on the affair:Dean's statement, however badly worded, pointed to the great unspoken in modern day democratic politics: class inequality, however complicated by regional and/or racial circumstances, not only matters, but presents an opportunity. Call me pie in the sky, but if Dean handles this the right way, he can carve out a message not unlike that of MLK, who, after all, was killed while defending sanitation workers. Read the late speeches of King. They are about economic injustice and class--this is where his thinking was going, away from racial inequalities per se and toward their structural roots. In this guise, surely he was a much more potent and to some, more dangerous kind of political leader.

Now I don't know what Dean was really thinking, but his appeal--again, however stumblebummed--to "poor white" voters seems to make perfect sense in terms of regaining ground lost to the GOP since Wallace, Goldwater, Nixon's southern strategy and Reagan. Silly psychological arguments about white male longing aside (and who knows what Lenin would have thought), where else could Dean really have been going with his comments but toward some vision of economic recovery and renewed hope for working people that the Decembrist says is necessary? Sure he should of left out the reference to the flag, but do we really think he was making some base appeal to whiteness and southern heritage? Again, the whole controversy reeks of the strange and unfortunate reticence about class, especially amongst today's liberals and Democrats. Dean's instincts--if that was what was on display--seem right to me precisely because they open this rather uncomfortable ideological seam and force us to think actively about coalition building rather than statically about existing demographics.

Flags--and not just the stars and bars--are indeed potent cultural symbols, often erasing and/or easing deeper discontents and creating common cause in one direction when they just as easily could have been created in another. If anything, Dean was making an analytical point and a tactical suggestion as regards a group of alienated voters that could, given their economic struggles, be brought into the Democratic "tent." Far from kindling notions of "false consciosness," an old nugget now thoroughly trounced even by Marxists, this was refreshing to hear--because it involves changing peoples minds, because it involves convincing such whites that they "ought" to vote along with blacks as democrats rather than as bearers of the "lost cause" of the confederacy. Dean now of course to elaborate, as well as explain what it is he will do to draw them in, as well as working people of color, the middle class, etc.

A final question: if convincing people that they ought to vote one way rather than another isn't politics (as opposed to letting people believe what they believe) beyond poll crunching what's left?

Such might follow if one built from Decembrist's coda comments; alas, it may turn out to be nothing.

mcc

I think there is an opportunity in the South and it is a cynical ploy that the Republicans would not hesitate to use. The next Democratic nominee should come out for cutting special Federal monies and subsidies for Cuban refugees and immigrants. I know many older Floridians who rant over the special treatment given the Cubans. Most Cubans vote Republican anyway so there is nothing to lose. However, there is much to gain. People vote in secret. I live in California and I am always amazed just how powerful anti-immigrant sentiment is during campaigns. The objective here is winning. The Decembrist is correct: hard choices need to be made. This is dirty poitics but it can be dressed up as budget cutting; Cuban are thriving in Florida and have a strong support network. They don't need handouts anymore. If wellfare is limited in duration, why isn't public assistance for Cuban immigrants? That would be the line. The Democrats have forgotten that in the end, it's about winning and winning takes a backbone and bare knuckle tactics in some instances.

Laura in DC

It is ridiculous. He has been saying this for months, and I am not sure why it has suddenly become such a big controversy.

Don Pedro (Economist for Dean)

You wrote "People support who they support, they believe what they believe."

This seems to me a very silly thing to say. It's either the Panglossian view or the the defeatest view, depending on the current state of public opinion.

dcp

One thing that has been overlooked in the discussion of Dean's comments on white guys in pick-up trucks with Confederate flags is that not all members of that group are southern. The Confederate flag has come to represent an imagined identity embraced by young white men in various parts of the country. That identity is not limited by social class but by one's imagined oppression and or victimization by the current socio-cultural environment. If one feels oppressed by the liberation of women, affirmative action, lesbian and gay rights, etc., one can elect to wave the Confederate flag as a symbol one's pride and independence from progressive politics and, god forbid, liberalism. Thus, I am more than a bit skeptical about Dr. Dean and his wish to reach out to those who would wave the stars and bars. Is he really trying to appeal to those who are poor and white and southern, or is he consciously speaking out to those middle-class and conservative young white men who feel victimized, even though an objective observer might judge them to be privilged? Just a thought.

dcp

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