Flag Flap Flurry
Saturday, November 1, 2003, updated November 6, 2003--Howard Dean's Democratic opponents jumped on his remark quoted below, with all the "major" campaigns issuing statements.  By way of background, in his speech at the DNC Winter Meeting in February 2003 Dean stated, "White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too."  Dean has also echoed this line in later speeches.

Should his words, below, be considered in light of that background?  Is Dean's remark inartful, or is he "embrac[ing] the most racially divisive symbol in America?"  Certainly Dean's competitors saw an opportunity to unleash a few zingers.  What do you think of the remark and the responses?

Here's the quote:
"I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks," [former VT Governor Howard] Dean said Friday in a telephone interview from New Hampshire.  "We can't beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross section of Democrats." [Des Moines Register, Beaumont 11/01/03]
Gephardt 12:38 p.m.
"I don't want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.  I will win the Democratic nomination because I will be the candidate for the guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.

Apparently, Governor Dean believes that if we sacrifice our support for reasonable gun legislation like the assault weapons ban, we will win the support of those that disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights.  I absolutely disagree with him."


Kerry 12:48 p.m.
"Howard Dean is justifying his pandering to the NRA by saying his opposition to an assault weapons ban allows him to pander to lovers of the Confederate flag.  It is simply unconsionable for Howard Dean to embrace the most racially divisive symbol in America.  I would rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA."

Dean 3:36 p.m.
"I want people with confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic--because the need for quality healthcare, jobs, and a good education knows no racial boundaries.  We have working white families in the south voting for tax cuts for the richest 1% while their children remain with no health care.  The dividing of working people by race has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for the last three decades--starting with Richard Nixon.  For my fellow Democratic opponents to sink to this level is really tragic.  The only way we're going to beat George Bush is if southern white working families and African American working families come together under the Democratic tent, as they did under FDR.

"In his historic 'I have a dream speech,' Martin Luther King, Jr., said: 'I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.'  I believe Dr. King's vision still represents the future of America. And that is what our campaign is about."

Lieberman's Campaign Director Craig Smith 4:02 p.m.
"Governor Dean ought to be more careful about what he says.  It is irresponsible and reckless to loosely talk about one of the most divisive, hurtful symbols in American.  The last thing the Democratic party needs is a nominee who will regularly make these kind of mistakes."

Edwards 5:17 p.m.
"What Howard Dean said today was nothing short of offensive.  Democrats from every wing of the party understand what that flag symbolizes.  And when a politician embraces on of the most divisive symbols in America, it is offensive to every American.  Some of the greatest Civil Rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South.  To assume that southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol is offensive."

Clark 6:13 p.m.
"The Confederate flag flies in the face of our most deeply-held American values - diversity, equality and inclusion.  As someone who led men and women of all backgrounds in the United States military, I believe that the only flag we should fly is the one that brings us together - the stars and stripes - and that the Confederate flag should never, ever be flown on public buildings."
Clark 7:33 p.m. (response to Dean defense)
“I've led Southerners and Northerners into battle under the stars and stripes of the American flag.  As a native of the South I understand that this is the only flag that unites us all, regardless of race or color.  Every Democratic candidate for President needs to condemn the divisiveness that the Confederate flag represents.”

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. from the Dean campaign 7:18 p.m.
"This year we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's famous speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963.  Forty years later, Dr. Howard Dean is reminding us that the great task of uniting the northern black and white urban poor and working class, with the southern black and white rural poor and working class around common economic issues -- good health care, high quality schools, and affordable housing -- is the key to wrestling our democracy away from the race-oriented Republican right-wing.

"Democrats were not competitive in the South in 2000, and we have struggled to thrive, and in some instances survive, since Richard Nixon and the Republican Party began using their race-based 'southern strategy' in 1968.  The use of race, cultural and social issues have served to distract voters by keeping the focus off of economic issues has been the basic strategy of Bush and the Republicans in the South.  That's why they make wedge issues out of prayer in school, the Ten Commandments on public buildings, civil unions, the false allegation that Democrats will take away hunter's gun rights, choice for women, the controversy of having the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Confederate Flag.  Lest we forget, the Confederate Flag is the Democratic Party's historic contribution to the South, and current Democratic candidates have not been able to figure out how to come to grips with their own historic symbol. 

"Normally, rather than directly confronting poor and working class white southerners with a strong economic agenda, Democrats have tried to imitate Republicans on many of these social issues.  It is good that we have a candidate offering hope to the South with an economic agenda.  It is Dr. Dean who is reminding us that the combination of poor and working class blacks and whites, north and south, united in coalition around a common economic agenda of jobs, health care, education and housing will constitute a winning strategy in 2004." 

Dean campaign 7:36 p.m.
memo to reporters with full excerpt from Dean's DNC speech

Edwards 7:32 p.m., November 2
ALGONA, IA: Senator John Edwards (NC) released the following statement in response to Governor Dean’s remarks on southern voters: 

"I have lived for fifty years in the South.  And the working men and women, white and African-American, Governor Dean speaks of are my family, my neighbors, my classmates, the people who fought together for equality and dignity in every part of their lives.  What Governor Dean may not understand, is what the Confederate flag means to us in terms of oppression and too often violence.  If we embrace those who display the flag for the purpose of heralding that oppression, because we think they share some economic common ground with us, we then fail to share the moral common ground with the Southern Democrats, white and African-American, who have been the core of the Southern Democratic Party."

Question (Sekou Dilday of Roxbury): Rock the Vote Democratic Presidential Debate, November 4
"I recently read a comment that you made where you said that you wanted to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.  When I read that comment, I was extremely offended.  Could you explain to me how you plan on being sensitive to needs and issues regarding slavery and African-Americans, after making a comment of that nature?" 

Dean: Sure.  Martin Luther King said that it was his dream that the sons of slave holders and the sons of slaves sit down around a table and make common good. 

There are 102,000 kids in South Carolina right now with no health insurance.  Most of those kids are white. The legislature cut $70 million out of the school system.  Most of the kids in the public school system are white.  We have had white Southern working people voting Republican for 30 years, and they've got nothing to show for it. 

They vote for a president who cut 1 percent of this country's taxpayers' taxes by $26,000, which is more than they make.  And I think we need to talk to white Southern workers about how they vote, because when white people and black people and brown people vote together in this country, that's the only time that we make social progress, and they need to come back to the Democratic Party. 

discussion continued...

Dean speaking at Cooper Union in New York, November 5 
"We're at a space today that's rich in our nation's history, a place where citizens have gathered for more than a century to debate the great issues of the day.  From this platform and from this very podium Abraham Lincoln spoke nearly 150 years ago as a presidential candidate and when Lincoln came here, he did not shy away from talking about the greatest threat that our republic faced at that time which is the terrible institution of human slavery.  I will not shy away today either. 

 "The issue of the confederate flag has become an issue in this presidential race.  Let me make this clear. I believe that we have one flag in this country, the flag of the United States of America.  I believe that the flag of the Confederate States of America is a painful symbol and reminder of racial injustice and slavery, which Lincoln denounced from here over 150 years ago. And I do not condone the use of the flag of the Confederate States of America.  I do believe that this country needs to engage in a serious discussion about race, and that everyone must participate in that discussion.  I started this discussion in a clumsy way. 

 "This discussion will be painful, and I regret the pain that I may have caused either to African-American or southern white voters in the beginning of this discussion. But we need to have this discussion in an honest open way.

 "In 1968 the Republican Party embarked on a strategy to divide white people from black people in the south just as they were divided when Abraham Lincoln stood at this podium 150 years ago.  That is intolerable.  Ending that is what this campaign is all about. 

 "I am determined to find a way to bring white Americans and black Americans--as Dr. King said--to the same table of common brotherhood. As I said, we have started in a difficult way, but there is no way to escape the pain of this discussion.  To think that racism was banished from the face of this
 country--even after the success of the civil rights movement is wrong. 

 "Today in America, you have a better chance of being called back for a job interview if you're white with a criminal record than you do if you're black with a clean record--never having been arrested or convicted.  Institutional racism exists in this country not because institutions are run by bigots or racists, but because of our unconscious bias towards hiring people just like ourselves. I am determined we will overcome this. I am also determined that we will not leave anyone behind in this discussion--no matter what their color, no matter where they live.

 "I understand Senator Edward's concern last night that we not have people from the north telling people from the south how to run their states--but we all need to understand that we are in this together and that it will be a difficult and painful discussion, and feelings will be hurt.  And what we must do is that people of good will must stay at the table. 

 "If we are ever to vanquish the scourge of racism left over from 400 hundred years of slavery and Jim Crow, only 40 or 50 years ago [did] the Civil Rights Movement begin to see relief from that.  We can't think it is over; we must have the dialogue Bill Clinton promised us; we must continue that dialogue, and we must all be at the table.  Many of the people in the African American community have supported what I have said in the past few days, because they understand.  Some have not, so I say, to those, I deeply regret the pain I have may caused.  Many of our white supporters have understood, but to those who do not, I regret the pain that I have caused. I will tell you, there is no easy way to do this. There will be pain as we discuss it; we must face it together--hand-in-hand, as Dr. King and Abraham Lincoln asked us to do.

 "Because this is about taking back our country and when white people and brown people and black people vote together in this country, that's when we get social justice in America."

Kerry 2:25 p.m., November 5
“Howard Dean has finally admitted that his words have caused pain but I am puzzled as to why he does not seem to regret the words that caused the pain. 

“Rather than politics as usual, Howard Dean should have taken responsibility for his rhetoric and simply said ‘I was wrong.’

“We should not forget that the insensitive and offensive remarks Howard Dean made five days ago were not in a discussion about race in this country but instead as a way of explaining why he told the NRA, in an effort to get their endorsement, that he opposed a federal ban on assault weapons.”

Lieberman 4:50 p.m., November 5 
"While I am glad that Governor Dean now regrets the pain his words have caused, he continues to stubbornly refuse to admit he made a mistake in the first place.  Part of the test of leadership is being willing to admit when you have made a mistake. Governor Dean has not met this test."

Gephardt 5:34 p.m., November 6
"In my three decades as a member of the Democratic Party, I have always been proud of my party's efforts to address the difficult issue of race. Our openness and inclusiveness of people of all races within our party speaks to our genuine recognition that equality and opportunity for all are not just issues we espouse; they are the organizing principles that define our party. 

"While I disagreed with Howard Dean's recent statement on the Confederate flag, I hope his statement of apology will allow us to move forward in this campaign to continue to address the issues that will move us forward as a nation. 

"But while we leave this controversy behind us, we cannot leave the issue of race behind us. Until we are able to honestly and openly address the issue of race, we will continue to find ourselves dousing the fires of controversy rather than making the progress that we must toward a greater understanding. 

"To that end, as president I would seek to lead a national dialogue on race that would begin the process of healing the wounds of our past and present and invite all our citizens to a true table of brotherhood and sisterhood. That is the leadership I will offer our nation, and I challenge my opponents to do the same." 


Observations: There are a lot of interesting nuances in this episode.  Dean, as the frontrunner, made an obvious target for criticism from his Democratic rivals.  Gephardt and Kerry were first to unload, coming out with their statements within ten minutes of each other.  Gephardt's statement had a nice line about the American flag rather than the Confederate flag.  Kerry statement had a nice line about "candidate of the NAACP [rather] than the NRA."  Three hours after these initial statements, the Dean campaign then responded with its "Statement From Governor Dean Regarding Kerry, Gephardt Tag Team Attacks," which led off with his orginal quote at DNC meeting in February, elaborated, and included a knock on his Democratic opponents for sinking to the level of Republicans.  Craig Smith of the Lieberman campaign then weighed in with a statement that questioned whether Dean is too mistake-prone to be the nominee.  Edwards added a Southern perspective.  Clark managed to bring in the issue of the Confederate flag and public buildings.  The Dean campaign then put out Rep. Jackson's statement.  A full seven hours after that first Gephardt statement the Dean campaign was still on the case sending out a memo to reporters with a fuller excerpt of the DNC speech "so that you can put the latest attacks in proper context."  These responses were not enough to stem the tide however.

The flap continued and was refueled at the CNN/Rock the Vote Democratic debate on November 4.  Finally, the next day Dean said he regretted the pain he had caused.  Kerry saw Dean's response as "politics as usual" and Lieberman said Dean has not met one of the tests of leadership.

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