Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2003 / 14 Kislev, 5764

Michael Graham

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Howard Dean's Southern strategy | With Howard Dean, more is inevitably less.

The more he talks, the more time he is given, the less impressive he becomes. In the shorthand of the working political media, he's the "frontrunner," the "man to beat," he's got the "Big Mo."

But it was a little man who walked out on a podium in Columbia, South Carolina last Sunday and stood awkwardly behind Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., receiving his endorsement. And after the Chicago congressman's speech got the crowd revved up (he is his father's son), Howard Dean wasted no time in bringing them right back down to Earth.

What Howard Dean wants to say is that he's a mainstream, unifying candidate who can build a national coalition to defeat President Bush in 2004. What comes out of his mouth (slightly paraphrased) is "Bush Sucks!" What Howard Dean's motivated and ever-growing coterie of followers wants to hear is "Bush REALLY Sucks!"

What's a candidate to do?

But Howard Dean is no dummy. He realizes he's going to need to take the edge off to win a general election nest November. He's also aware of the conventional wisdom that southern moderates in early primary states like South Carolina and Virginia don't march to the Bush-bashing drumbeat.

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So what does Dean do? He comes to South Carolina — home of those infamous white males with the "Confederate Flag in [their] pick-up truck" — and calls President Bush a racist. And, just to cover his bases, he accuses the entire Republican Party of racism, too.

The Republican Party is "purposely dividing the country over the issues of 'guns, G-d and gays'," Dean said. And President Bush is using "race-loaded" language by bringing up affirmative action.

"It's time we had a new politics in America — a politics that refuses to pander to our lowest prejudices," Dean said.

Now, being accused of pandering by Howard Dean is like having Michael Jackson make a crack about your plastic surgery. Dean’s non-stop pander-monium is legend—it’s how he got in trouble with the Confederate Flag in the first place. When asked what his favorite song was at the Democratic debate held at historically-black Morgan State University, Howard Dean said Jaspora by Wyclef Jean.

Yo, my Vermont homies be rockin' out to Jaspora at all the ski resorts, dawg…

The accusation that President Bush is using racial rhetoric to divide America is laughable on its face. Those of us who dream with Dr. King of a color-blind society wish the president would show some enthusiasm for the fight against race-based government policies. Instead, he smiles patiently while open-minded, tolerant Democrats hurl racial slurs at his minority nominees to the courts.

And what to make of Dean's insistence that the issues of "guns, G-d and gays" are part of a divisive GOP strategy? It's not the Republican Party that keeps bringing up the First and Second Amendments, it's the courts. If the Democrats are having trouble handling the issue of homosexual marriage, they should blame the "conservatives" on the Massachusetts state court who brought it to the fore.

Especially fascinating is the fact that all the "divisive issues" Dean says we shouldn't discuss — gun laws, religious expression and the definition of marriage — are part of the primary duties of government. Unlike the economy and job creation, which are only modestly affected by any government action, deciding the limits of gun ownership or the parameters of state-recognized marriage are the reason we have government in the first place.

Of course, Dean isn't saying people should talk about these things. What's he's saying is that we shouldn't disagree with him about them. In Dean's world, if you don't agree with the liberal orthodoxy on gay adoption or the Pledge of Allegiance, you must remain silent. If you speak out, you're a bigot.

Are Howard Dean's positions on freedom and family so weak that he cannot even discuss them, much less defend them? Is the Democratic Party so out of step with southern voters on cultural issues that they can't even engage in debate? If so, the Democrats have lost the South before they've even begun.

When Al Gore announced his endorsement of Howard Dean this week, pundits suggested the former Vice President could give Dean some mainstream, establishment credibility. That's certainly true. They also predicted that Al Gore could sway southern voters to support this New England liberal's campaign. And among Democratic primary voters, that's likely as well.

But when it comes to Howard Dean doing as well in the South against George W. Bush as Al Gore did in 2000 (0-for-13), the former vice president could have stayed home. Howard Dean seems to have it all under control.

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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.


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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