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Howard Dean

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Well, I guess Jesse Jackson won’t be endorsing Howard Dean after all.

After suggesting in a recent column (before Mr. Dean’s now famous Confederate flag remark) that the ex-governor of Vermont might be on his way to winning the bloc support of black Democrats and therefore the party nomination, I must now predict that such may not be the case.

So intense is the hatred most blacks feel for the Confederate flag, a hatred engendered by racial demagogues like the Rev. Jackson and Al Sharpton, that Mr. Dean’s one brief comment last week may be sufficient to lose him the black support he seemed to be gaining.

Nevertheless, the reaction to his slip by his rivals for the nomination tends to bear out my larger point. That point was that the Democratic Party has now become so dependent on its black voters that it is virtually impossible for any candidate to win the nomination without their support.

Only if the black bloc is split (which to my knowledge has never happened) could a candidate win without its votes. Moreover, most Democratic candidates know this, even if they don’t usually say so, and that’s why they spend most of the primary campaign pandering to blacks as shamelessly as possible.

Mr. Dean has done more than his fair share of pandering, claiming to a black audience last summer that a popular rap tune was his personal favorite song and winning several endorsements from black elected officials already.

Now, his remark about the Confederate flag may have undone that.

The first to sniff the blood in the debate’s water was the well-seasoned shark, Mr. Sharpton, a man thoroughly at home with character assassination since the days when he was peddling the Tawana Brawley fable in the 1980s. As soon as Mr. Dean had expressed his ambition to be “the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks” and the banality that “We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats,”Mr. Sharpton flicked his fins and cruised in for the kill.

If a southern person running … had said that, they’d have been run out of the race,” the Harlem preacher ranted. Mr. Sharpton, already peeved because Mr. Dean had cut deeply into the black votes he needs for himself, had every good political reason to snap at his rival’s flanks.

And so did the other candidates. With Mr. Dean threatening to capture the black vote, the tactical problem they face is how to dislodge the black support he enjoys. Jumping up and down at any sort of friendly remark about the Confederate flag is a good way to do that.

And so they did. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards denounced the remark as condescending,” while Mr. Sharpton moaned that the Confederate flag is “America’s swastika.” Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, locked in battle with Mr. Dean in the Iowa caucus, spouted that the Vermonter was trying to win votes from people “who disagree with us on bedrock Democratic values like civil rights.”

“I don’t want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” Mr. Gephardt piously announced in a statement. There is really small danger of that.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry accused Mr. Dean of having “pandered” to the National Rifle Association and of now trying to “pander to lovers of the Confederate flag.”

“I would rather be the candidate of the NAACP than the NRA,”Kerry said in a statement.

What is significant about all these little temper tantrums by grown-up and politically sophisticated men is that every one of them acknowledges why it was important to cast Mr. Dean as a bigot or insensitive or condescending or flirting with rejection of civil rights.

Getting that message across to black voters, who make up 40 percent of the Democratic vote in Southern primaries, would finish off any prospect of Howard Dean winning that vote and with it a place on the party’s ticket.

It would also mean—maybe—that the man who most viciously denounced Mr. Dean and the Confederate flag and the white people who like it would stand a chance of gaining the black vote himself.

Every serious Democratic presidential candidate understands that for purposes of getting to Square One, the party nomination, the NRA’s approval is not terribly useful. It’s the NAACP’s that counts.

But what Mr. Dean understands is that in order to win the election, the NRA and the kind of people who join it are essential.

That was his point in his controversial remark, and until some Democrat is able to say that and act on it and bring back the white voters the party’s racial pandering has lost to Republicans, no Democrat will ever win the White House.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Democratic Party, Howard Dean 
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It’s hardly news when the Rev. Al Sharpton denounces a white politician as “anti-black,” but when the veteran racial demagogue who gave the world the Tawana Brawley hoax blasted his fellow Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean last week, there was a ripple in the press. [Sharpton Calls Dean's Agenda 'Anti-Black,' By Brian Faler, Washington Post, October 29, 2003]

There was no reason there should have been more than a ripple, but what was really important about Mr. Sharpton’s accusation is not what it says about the black clergyman from Harlem but what it might tell us about Mr. Dean: He may be on his way to winning the Democratic nomination next year.

The reason is that Mr. Dean seems to be extremely popular with a great many of the black voters on whom Mr. Sharpton was counting to support his own candidacy.

And the larger point is that if you do win the black vote in the Democratic primaries, you are likely to win the party nomination.

Ever since 1988, when the institution of “Super Tuesday” was established, blacks who vote in the several Southern primaries held simultaneously on that day have largely determined who the front runner for the party nomination is.

In 1988, it was Jesse Jackson who walked off with what Congressional Quarterly called “nearly unanimous [black support] across the South on Super Tuesday” with only 14 fewer delegates than Michael Dukakis, who eventually won the nomination by mobilizing white ethnics.

In 1992, the Super Tuesday victor was the obscure governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, later called “America’s first black president.”He won (and catapulted himself into the front runner position) by taking 71 percent of the black vote in the day’s primaries.

In 2000, Vice President Al Gore and his main rival, Sen. Bill Bradley, spent most of their time in lily-white Iowa bickering over who would do more for blacks. Blacks went for Mr. Gore by some 85 percent on Super Tuesday. Mr. Bradley dropped out soon afterwards.

The brute fact of the Democratic Party is that black voters make up about 40 percent of the Democratic electorate in Southern primaries, and because those primaries come fairly early in the electoral season and because blacks almost always vote as a bloc, the contender who can win black support makes himself the front runner. Unless one of his rivals has a secret weapon of mass political destruction, he soon wins the nomination.

So why would Mr. Dean, a white Yankee from a white state, win black votes?

It’s not clear why, but he does seem to win a lot of black favor. The immediate reason Mr. Sharpton denounced the Vermonter is that Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. endorsed him instead of the Harlem race-baiter. Mr. Jackson is not a major powerhouse himself, but his father’s name among black voters is. The father is staying out of the primaries, much to the displeasure of Mr. Sharpton, who wants his endorsement.

As for Mr. Dean, last summer he purported to a black audience that a song by a famous hip-hop artist was his own personal favorite. No doubt his wife and kids hear the governor humming it in the shower every morning. But—contrary to Mr. Sharpton’s accusations—he’s made pretty explicit appeals to blacks in the course of his campaign—and it seems to have worked.

The Washington Times reports that 10 of the 13 (all black) members of the District of Columbia’s City Council, as well as several black congressmen, state legislators and county officials, have already endorsed Mr. Dean. He “has actively sought to improve his appeal among black voters,” and one of the endorsing councilmen, Adrian Fenty, says the ex-governor “is the only one [of the Democratic candidates] who has come out to talk to us.” [Blacks show interest in Dean, By Brian DeBose , Washington Times, October 26, 2003]

This doesn’t mean Mr. Dean will win the black vote in the primaries or that he’ll get the party’s nomination. It does seem to mean that he understands how to get them, and the way to do one is the way to do the other.

The problem for the Democrats, of course, is that in order to win the black vote to get the nomination, they have to ignore and often alienate the white voters who settle the actual election. I can’t tell you who the last Democratic nominee to win a majority of the white vote was, but it hasn’t happened since at least 1972. In every election but two (1992 and 1996, when the Republican and Ross Perot split the white vote), a white majority has voted Republican.

If the Republicans want to win again, that’s what they need to win again.

Mr. Dean may get the party’s nomination and he may win all the black (and Hispanic) votes there are, but without the key constituency of white voters, the door to the White House doesn’t open.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Blacks, Democratic Party, Howard Dean 
Sam Francis
About Sam Francis

Dr. Samuel T. Francis (1947-2005) was a leading paleoconservative columnist and intellectual theorist, serving as an adviser to the presidential campaigns of Patrick Buchanan and as an editorial writer, columnist, and editor at The Washington Times. He received the Distinguished Writing Award for Editorial Writing of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) in both 1989 and 1990, while being a finalist for the National Journalism Award (Walker Stone Prize) for Editorial Writing of the Scripps Howard Foundation those same years. His undergraduate education was at Johns Hopkins and he later earned his Ph.D. in modern history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

His books include The Soviet Strategy of Terror(1981, rev.1985), Power and History: The Political Thought of James Burnham (1984); Beautiful Losers: Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism (1993); Revolution from the Middle: Essays and Articles from Chronicles, 1989–1996 (1997); and Thinkers of Our Time: James Burnham (1999). His published articles or reviews appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, National Review, The Spectator (London), The New American, The Occidental Quarterly, and Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, of which he was political editor and for which he wrote a monthly column, “Principalities and Powers.”