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Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2003/ 15 Mar-Cheshvan 5764

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Howard Dean's 'amazing foot-eating trick' wows voters | Earth to Dean: If you want to convert the Martians, don't make fun of their cheese.

Howard Dean seems like a nice guy. Direct, passionate, unpretentious. But he's got this one little problem: he cannot keep his foot away from his mouth.

First it was the "Confederate trucks" comment that he wanted "to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in (sic) their trucks." No, no, no, Dr. Dean, the flag is ON the truck.

Then a few days later he told a Tallahassee crowd that Southerners have to quit basing their votes on "race, guns, G-d and gays."

And this was all in the spirit of attracting the white-boy, Nascar, vote.

Poor Dean. I'm 100 percent certain he's trying to say the right thing, trying to be inclusive, to take back the Southern states from the GOP because, yes, the South is home to people who, whatever their peculiarities, need jobs, health care and better schools.

If Candidate Dean can offer improvements in those areas, then surely Southerners need to hear about them. But for some reason, Dean cannot seem to say what he means.

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I feel for the guy, but please don't change on my account. Columnists can only be grateful for politicians who utter things like "race, guns, G-d and gays" in one breath.

Dean now has compounded his problems by allowing himself to be bullied by his political foes into apologizing for something he didn't really mean, thus squandering what he seemed to have over the other Democratic presidential candidates: candor and conviction.

Instead of shrugging and refusing to dignify the accusations of racism and pandering from a dais-ful of opportunistic hissing kettles, he bowed to their intimidation and apologized for, oh yes, causing pain to anyone offended by the existence of Confederate flags anywhere in the world. He also apologized for stereotyping.

Bad call. Dean made a critical error by the Bubba Boy Code. He made himself look weak to the very people he was trying to attract. Southern rednecks can take insults; they're used to them. But one thing they can't stand is a wuss. Say what you mean and mean what you say, but don't adjust your tune to satisfy, of all people, your opponents.

Dean should have followed his original instincts to not back down when he was attacked at a debate in Boston last week. He's the dog with the view, after all, and should have said:

"Look, you guys know what I meant, and probably the boys with Confederate flags ON their trucks know what I meant. I want to invite them to the party. I understand that the flag is controversial; I also know it means different things to different people. I exclude no one."

Dean's tone deafness, presumably made worse by his consultation with Jimmy Carter, is severe to politically disabling. Not only does he condescend to potential constituents, but his message is all wrong. When it comes to race, G-d, gays and guns, it's the Democrats, and specifically Dean, who can't stop talking about them.

Permit me to offer a little advice: If you're courting the area of America known as The Bible Belt, don't dis' G-d. If you're addressing a demographic group that sets its calendar by the start of dove season, try not to imply that there's anything wrong with guns or gun racks in the back of trucks.

As for gays and race, the South seems reasonably relaxed. A majority of Southerners (especially blacks, according to a recent Pew poll) may prefer the one man-one woman marriage formula, but that hardly constitutes regional homophobia.

Meanwhile, blacks are returning to the South in droves because, one might reasonably infer, they feel welcome and at home. According to 2002 figures, South Carolina alone had more than 30 black mayors, a dozen black sheriffs, 31 black members of the General Assembly and hundreds of black officials in local and school governments.

In 2000, the South accounted for eight of the top 10 states in numbers of black elected officials, according to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank that focuses on issues related to blacks.

Trying to lasso the South with one rope is, in other words, tricky, especially when a state like South Carolina is home to, for instance, Gays for G-d. A politician's best bet is to speak his convictions and stick to them. Good ol' boys love that.

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