Politics Mondays: Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Faye M. Anderson On Howard Dean's New Southern Strategy
Historically, the Confederate flag is a symbol of the Democratic Party. Today, however, Republicans can fly and wave it, but Democrats can't talk about it - and current Democrats don't know how to handle it.
As a result, the symbol Howard Dean used got in the way of his substance, but his substance was on point - and the point was southern whites and blacks together must focus on their common economic needs: jobs, good schools, affordable health care.
Howard Dean has a new Democratic southern strategy.
Democrats know the divide in the South is race. Republicans have exploited it. Democrats have evaded it.
Every Democrat has known since the civil rights movement that the party was becoming less competitive in the South because of race. Republicans have successfully exploited race (in proportion to black voting strength) since Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" of 1968, by, among other things, using racial code words: Nixon's "law and order," Reagan's "states' rights" and "welfare queen," and the first George Bush's "Willie Horton."
When white moderates started catching on to their racial tactics, Republicans switched from racial to mainly social issues, as a diversion to misdirect voters away from the economic plight of many southerners, white and black.
For example, Republicans campaign to "keep prayer in public schools," "to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings," to maintain "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, and around the death penalty, welfare mothers, abortion, homosexuality and pornography - all of which play well in the socially conservative Bible belt of the South. As a result, Republicans market cultural campaigns around moral values.
It's one thing for the South to be conservative socially in the Bible belt, but quite another to be economically conservative. But Republicans deliberately blur the distinction between social and economic conservatism.
Economically, when compared to other U.S. regions, the South has disproportionately high unemployment, unfair taxes, poverty, illiteracy, poor schools, and inadequate health care and housing - for both white and black. Why would anyone want to conserve such economic misery?
So what have Republicans offered these working-class white southerners? Tax cuts for the rich, less government, a strong military message, plus symbolic cultural, social and moral issues.
Disappointingly, Democrats over several decades, rather than campaigning around common economic needs of southern whites and blacks, have mostly imitated Republicans on social and cultural issues, and failed to challenge around economic issues. White Democrats, South and North, want and need the black vote to win, but then avoid meeting black economic and political expectations that accompany their vote.
In lieu of offering an economic agenda to southern voters, Democrats instead have used the idea of a "regionally balanced ticket" as the way of dealing with this problem.
John F. Kennedy put Lyndon Johnson on the ticket in 1960. LBJ went with Hubert Humphrey in 1964. Jimmy Carter's running mate in 1976 was Walter Mondale. In 1988, Michael Dukakis ran with Lloyd Bentsen. And as the southern white Democratic vote continued to decline, Bill Clinton used a two-pronged strategy in 1992-96, appealing to social conservatism and putting a second southerner on the ticket. They campaigned in support of the death penalty, ending welfare as we know it, and putting an end to the era of big government. Most recently, in 2000, conservative northern Democrat Joseph Lieberman ran alongside southerner Al Gore.
Rather than repeating this stereotypical and condescending approach of appealing to whites in the South with a "balanced ticket" and "social conservatism," Howard Dean dares a new approach - to join whites and blacks around a common economic agenda of good schools and health care.
If Howard Dean wins the nomination around an economic agenda, and can effectively combat the certain Republican tactic of diversion - using social issues openly, and race more subtly, to sublimate economic concerns - then Democrats may once again be able to win in the South and pursue a progressive economic agenda for the benefit of all Americans.
That's Howard Dean's approach and his challenge. I support him because I think it's the right strategy politically, economically and morally.
Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., is the author of A MORE PERFECT UNION, Advancing New American Rights, Welcome Rain Publishing, 2001. He can be contacted at: http://www.jessejacksonjr.org/contact.htm
By Faye M. Anderson
Southern man better keep your head
Don't forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
--Neil Young, "Southern Man"
Last week, Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, picked up the endorsement of two powerful unions, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. With a combined membership of more than three million, these unions will provide Dean with a virtual army of organizers and small donors to "take back America."
Dean is their choice to heal the racial wounds that keep the nation divided and people's attention and energy distracted from the great issues facing the country. "After Nov. 4, 2004, there will be a doctor in the White House. And that doctor will be Dr. Howard Dean," said SEIU President Andrew L. Stern.
The endorsements came notwithstanding efforts by Dean's political rivals to wrap him in the Confederate flag for saying he wanted to "be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Some construed Dean's clumsy articulation of the need to expand the Democratic base by reconnecting with white Southern men as an embrace of the rebel flag.
Dean has since apologized. He told CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, "Having to do it all over again, I wouldn't use the Confederate flag because it is such a divisive symbol. But the key underlying issues are not dead. They are an essential part of my campaign."
Dean added: "We need to bring Southern whites into the Democratic Party or we're not going to win elections in the South anymore. And we're not going to abandon the South. And I'm certainly not going to abandon the South."
For me, the Confederate flag flap is déjà vu all over again. Dean's forthright mea culpa stands in stark contrast to George W. Bush. I left the Republican Party in 2000 in the wake of a pattern of racial blunders, including then-candidate Bush's refusal to condemn the flying of the Confederate flag atop the South Carolina Statehouse. Bush has yet to denounce the Confederate flag or, for that matter, apologize to African Americans for showing up at Bob Jones University, which at the time banned interracial dating.
Though Bush fancies himself a "uniter, not a divider," he has eschewed a racial dialogue in favor of photo-ops with black conservatives who lead constituencies of one. Indeed, one of Bush's first acts as President was to abolish the Office on the President's Initiative for One America established during the Clinton Administration. The One America initiative was designed to stimulate a national conversation on race and promote public policies to expand opportunities for all Americans.
Dean is a different kind of presidential candidate. He acknowledges that race still matters. He wants to discuss, for example, the racial gap in employment opportunities. A Northwestern University study found that white males with a felony conviction were more likely to be called back for interviews than black applicants with a clean record.
"I do believe that this country needs to engage in a serious discussion about race, and that everyone must participate in that discussion," Dean said during CNN's "Rock the Vote" debate.
At the same time, Dean promises to reach out to "working white families in the South voting for tax cuts for the richest one percent while their children remain with no health care. The dividing of working people by race has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for the last three decades."
And indeed it has. Since 1968, the GOP has used race to break the Democrats' hold on the once "solid South." But Democrats cannot win in the South by out-"segging" [read: segregating] Republicans. There is no tent big enough to fit both Confederate flag-wavers and black folks-period. So it should have come as no surprise that Bush garnered only eight percent of the black vote nationwide. And in Mississippi, Republican Sen. Trent Lott's home state, black support for Bush was three percent.
For political gain, southern men of the GOP like Bush and Lott embrace the Old South, where "the past is never dead. It's not even past." Both campaigned for former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour who exploited the fight over the Mississippi state flag, with its Confederate emblem, to oust the Democratic governor.
In the New South, moderate white voters, many of whom migrated from northern states, are as concerned about the loss of good jobs, access to quality education and health care, and the war in Iraq as moderates in, say, Missouri and Pennsylvania.
So Dean is right to focus on the larger issue of unifying Americans in a period of political, economic and social upheaval in the world. Progressives must remain forward-looking and stop attacking each other over dead issues. They must keep their eyes on the prize and form alliances with voters who share the fundamental values that shape the American character.
In accepting the SEIU and AFSCME endorsements Dean said, "This election is about us. It's about what kind of country we're going to have… It's going to change America because it's going to put working people back in the driver's seat."
That's a message that will appeal to the "better angels" of the new Southern man. Think of it as a southern strategy for the 21st century.
Faye M. Anderson is a former vice chairman of the Republican National Committee's New Majority Council. She can be reached at email@example.com
Monday, November 17, 2003