Chris Suellentrop discussed the confederate flag issue yesterday on Slate.
Recovering their appeal to white working-class voters is something of an obsession among Democratic Party politicians, and the Dean campaign rightly points out that the Confederate-flag comment is something that their candidate says all the time, and that he never received any criticism for it in the past. During tonight's debate in Boston, the campaign issued a press release pointing to C-SPAN footage from the February 2003 winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee that was attended by every candidate except John Kerry. There, Dean said, "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." The campaign says he was received with a standing ovation, "even bringing Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe to his feet," and they say you can see it on C-SPAN here, right before the 2:09:00 mark.
That said, Dean handled tonight's kerfuffle over the Confederate flag poorly, and he did so in a way that raises a worrisome question about his candidacy. Why is he so obstinate about admitting that he was wrong? Earlier in the campaign, when Dean was confronted with changes in his positions on trade, on Social Security, and on Medicare, his first instinct was to deny that he had held the earlier position. Surely it would have been far easier to just say, hey, I made a mistake.
What is interesting about this article is that Suellentrop seems to be advancing two apparently contradictory sentiments:
- Howard Dean is right to bring up the issue of winning back the votes of rural white southerners.
- Howard Dean can't admit when he is wrong.
So which is it Chris? Why paint a picture of Dean as arrogant for not admitting when he is wrong when you as much as suggest that he wasn't wrong in the first place?
This demonstrates, once again, the obsession in some circles with "getting the message right" rather than "getting the message out". The idea being that if you can't express a thought perfectly and in a way that won't garner controversy then you shouldn't bring it up at all in the first place.
Sorry, but I think part of the Democrats problem in recent years is that they have been so keen to not offend people that they end up never saying anything compelling at all. You have to be willing to put your foot in it if you are going to go out there and express an honest opinion. And observers are going to have to cut them some slack if they really do want politicians to engage in more than just carefully processed, pre-packaged talking points.