HOWARD DEAN AND "DUMB TRIANGULATION"
Howard Dean is more Bill Clinton than all the other Democratic candidates but he’s no Bill Clinton as his recent foray into triangulation over disaffected Southern white males with confederate flags on their pick-up trucks demonstrated. Prometheus6
had a very interesting and influential initial reaction (follow-up here
) to Dean’s comments, as did columnist Clarence Page
. Here are P6's original comments in toto:
"I have been asked my opinion of Howard Dean's 'guys with Confederate Flags in pickup trucks' comment. I haven't blogged about it, but I do have several not necessarily connected opinions.
I don't think it goes over too well with those guys because it sounded a bit pejorative to me.
I don't think it goes over well in the Black communities because it sounds like support for declared enemies.
I think it clearly and precisely identified a specific population that Democrats need to address. I think "disaffected Southerners" identifies them almost as well and is far less open to reproach.
What I personally think of Dean going forward will be greatly influenced by how he sets about attracting this demographic. I think they recognize themselves as a demographic and so SHOULD be specifically addressed. But if he excuses racism in any way, even implied, he goes into the same bucket with Nixon. There's a great number of issues of concern to disaffected Southerners that can be addressed constructively, that will benefit people across the board.
Black folks must always promote their agenda such that all people are included in the pool of beneficiaries. A similar approach should be taken with all appeals to disaffected Southerners.
shows some good analytical thinking by dubbing the remarks to be part of a Southern Counter-strategy. They probably were – my view however is that in execution, Dean accomplished “ Dumb Triangulation ” as opposed to the“ Smart Triangulation” pioneered by Dick Morris
and Bill Clinton.
Dean is correct that the Democratic Party needs to appeal to disaffected Southern white men. A swing of about 5 % of these voters in 2000 would have given Al Gore the election so there’s not a huge number of these people that Dean needs to attract in a general election contest. This demographic shares class interests with the Democrats but are at odds with the party culturally, not merely because of “ God, Gays, Guns and Race” but partially as a result of the steady message of contempt and hostility directed at non-liberal, white Southern men group by urban, multicultural, liberal elites. Prometheus6 is absolutely correct when he notes that the resonance of the Confederate Flag issue cuts both ways – people are disinclined to cuddle up to those who appear to be gratuitously spitting in their face. There’s no way for a Democrat to finesse the Confederate flag issue without alienating an important constituency.
Dean’s attempt at triangulating was “ dumb” because his direct approach invoking the potent symbol of the Stars and Bars was inevitably going to reinforce all the negative impressions that white Southern men have about the Democratic Party. Predictably, Dean’s opponents erupted in outrage. Dean’s remark allowed Al Sharpton, whose own record of rancid race-baiting, vicious slander and inciting riots should get him laughed off the stage at any respectable gathering, to appear statesmanlike
. In short, the other candidates were able to wrap themselves in the Democratic Party’s greatest moral strength- commitment to racial equality – in a symbolic moment that reinforced to Southern white males that the Democrats see them as some kind of class enemy. Dean’s subsequent retreat in the face of liberal criticism
then confirmed to white Southern men that Dean is unable to stand up to the folks who loathe them. All that this exercise accomplished was to damage Dean among the Democratic base while signaling to the group he is trying to woo that he’s weak in the clutch.
Contrast this with Bill Clinton’s “ smart triangulation ” in 1992 – smart triangulation is indirect because it’s about reassurance not appeasement or pandering. Clinton famously attacked an untalented bigot and rap artist “ Sister Souljah ”
for her anti-white hatred in the presence of the then kingmaker of the Democratic Party, Jesse Jackson, who was to say the least, not pleased. At the time, it was common for white Democrats to go into verbal contortions to avoid expressing criticism of a member of a minority group, no matter how morally outrageous the behavior that might be involved. Sister Souljah was an excellent foil for Clinton because her attitudes and views were more or less so indefensible as to be a “ straw man” on the issues of race relations. However, Southern whites took note that Clinton was not Micheal Dukakis or Walter Mondale and he was not going to knuckle under to politically counterproductive demands from Rev. Jackson or pretend that racist ranting from black crackpots was morally different from that of white ones. Indirect but very effective because it merged the outreach to disaffected Southern whites with the Democratic Party’s positive strengths by applying principles equally.
Never is a Party more at sea then during the political interregnum between its last dominating political master and the rise of the next. 2004 may be a rough year for the Democrats.