November 18, 2003

Dean's Confederate flag remark angers

Howard Dean's comments about poor white Southerners, where he so earnestly implored those with the Confederate flag on their bumpers to vote Democrat and did not even apologize for the remark until recently, just earned him another enemy: me.

Yes, I admit it; I'm technically a Southerner, from the state of Kentucky. But I'm also an Asian-American, which goes against every stereotype there is about a Southerner. Come up with any derogatory Southern stereotype and I break that mold. Although I might not be quick to declare I'm from Kentucky, I'm not ashamed of my state. I came from one of the best public schools in the country, and I lived in the suburbs of the 16th largest city in the nation (yes, that's in Kentucky). Although it may not be as progressive as California, Kentucky still has its charm and its comforts.

But then again, what Dean, doesn't realize is that the South is not the stereotypical ignorant backwoods. The South shown in the media and in pop culture exists, for the most part, only in the media and in pop culture. The South is one of the fastest- growing areas in the United States, both in terms of the economy and terms of in population. While racism may still be a problem, the region is becoming more diverse with growing numbers of blacks, Hispanics, and Asian-Americans. Much of the modern South has become suburbanized it could be a scene from American Beauty. The part of Kentucky I grew up was normal, if not also completely boring. People are driving Lexuses and SUV instead of pickup trucks and all the teenagers are drinking frappuccinos at Starbucks and shopping at Abercrombie.

After hearing Howard Dean say at the CNN "Rock the Vote" campaign that he wanted to be a candidate for "guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks," I just have three questions for him: What Yankee, elitist, ivory tower have you been living in? Did you know conceptions of the South have changed since the Civil War? Do you purposely want your campaign to go down the drain?

For Dean, a blue-blooded Yank from Vermont, even to bring up that image of the Confederate flag when referring to the South shows he hasn't been doing his homework. The Confederate flag is a controversial and divisive symbol in American history. Entire states find themselves drowning in controversy over the flag, which is both a symbol of pride and of pain. No tactful politician would dare use the Confederate flag when referring to Southerners.

Dean's clarification of his remarks stated that although he may have used bad analogies and judgment, he did sincerely attempt to reach out to disenfranchised conservative poor white Southerners to return to the Democratic Party fold. Is insulting poor Southerners such a great way to invite them back into the Democratic Party? Also, are you sure you want these guys with Confederate flags on their pickups supporting you, when you could reach out to millions of other poorer people, like blacks or Hispanics?

While the intentions seem good, again Dean appears condescending and elitists in portraying any Southerner as this Confederate flag mascot. After all, what would a well-bred liberal doctor from New England know about Southern culture? Not much apparently. Northerners usually do seem condescending and elitist to Southerners, so insulting them doesn't help when you're running for President. The last few presidential elections have shown Southern states are usually the swing votes between who gets the White House and who'll start bitching for a recount. Dean might have shot himself in the foot if those comments cause him to lose the South.

I can't tell what damage this has done to Dean's campaign, but perhaps it's minimal. Yet nine college students still felt he hadn't excused himself when they showed up to his press conference at Dartmouth University last Thursday carrying Confederate flags. John Edwards, the good ole presidential candidate from North Carolina has been making the rounds lambasting Dean—though his low numbers in the polls might be the reason he's squeezing all he can get from this controversy. And Dean's popularity is still surging in the polls, especially when he made that brave (or stupid) move to forgo public financing, thereby receiving the endorsement of two powerful unions.

But I would just kindly remind Dean that whether or not he does make it into the White House, don't insult the South, or he'll have millions of angry Southerners on his tail, including this Kentuckian.