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Thursday, November 06, 2003
Kinsley, Goldberg, Dean, and the Confederate Flag
Michael Kinsley, a writer whose pens Jonah Goldberg is not fit to fill with ink, famously defined a "gaffe" as when someone unintentionally tells the truth. Herewith, an illustration (emphasis mine):
Jonah Goldberg's Goldberg File on National Review Online
If Dean had studied the Republican line more closely, he'd know that Republicans don't embrace the flag because it is racist — or at least they never, ever, say that — but explicitly because it represents things other than race: heritage, pride, honor, etc.

I haven't said much about the Dean flap over the Confederate flag, largely because it's been well covered in a lot of other places. But since I am a Dean supporter and grew up in the South (North Carolina), I suppose I should say something.

Not everybody in the South is racist, but a lot of people still are. Not in a virulent, lynch mob sort of way, but in a more genteel sort of racism that guarantees that (for example) Al Sharpton couldn't get elected governor of a Southern state if the guy running against him was convicted of molesting young girls. During the campaign.

Not everybody who displays a Confederate flag is a racist. When I left to go to college in upstate New York, my parents gave me a Confederate flag to hang up in my dorm room. It was mostly a joke. Mostly. The problem is that the people who really are the racists, who have used that Confederate battle flag as an emblem of many truly evil things, were also for a long time the people who ran things across a lot of the South. Remember, George Wallace and Lester Maddox were governors of their states. Jesse Helms was a long-time Senator. Some of them (Wallace, Strom Thurmond) I believe made an honest effort to change their stripes, with more or less success. Some (Helms) just learned to hide it. But the problem is that these people are the ones who established the Stars and Bars as the symbol of "Southern-ness". It's as though there was no symbol of Germany for people to display other than the Swastika, to use an imperfect analogy. So what we have is people who, in looking for a symbol of cultural identity, have no real alternative other than to promulgate the symbol of the racists.

Should a Democratic candidate want the votes of these people? What a stupid question. Of course we should want the votes of these people. We should want the votes of everybody. What we shouldn't do is pander to them in order to get their votes, same as anybody else. In fact, by effectively attacking these people, by talking like there's something inherently wrong with displaying the Confederate flag, we're only going to drive them more deeply into the shell of ignorance (of its true meaning) and defiance. If we want to change these people - and I'd certainly argue that we should do that - we need to make common ground with them. As Dean said, point out to them that their kids are without health insurance just like the African-American kids in their town. Then we can talk to them about change.

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