- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003


A comment by Howard Dean about Confederate flags and pickup trucks has embroiled the leading Democrats in Iowa’s presidential caucuses in a donnybrook.

“I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks,” the former Vermont governor said in a telephone interview published in yesterday’s editions of the Des Moines Register. “We can’t beat George Bush unless we appeal to a broad cross-section of Democrats.”

Mr. Dean said yesterday that he intended to encourage the return of Southern voters who have abandoned the Democrats for decades, but several of his rivals saw the comment differently.

Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who shares the lead in Iowa with Mr. Dean, accused Mr. Dean of making a blatant move to win the votes of 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 said in a statement. “I will win the Democratic nomination because I will be the candidate for guys with American flags in their pickup trucks.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts contended that Mr. Dean’s “pandering” to the National Rifle Association gave him an inroad to “pander to lovers of the Confederate flag.”

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

The Rev. Al Sharpton — who has accused Mr. Dean of having an “anti-black agenda” — said he was “surprised and disturbed.”

“If I said I wanted to be the candidate for people that ride around with helmets and swastikas, I would be asked to leave,” Mr. Sharpton said.

In response to the criticism, Mr. Dean released a statement saying: “I want people with Confederate flags on their trucks to put down those flags and vote Democratic — because the need for quality health care, jobs and a good education knows no racial boundaries.

“We have working white families in the south voting for tax cuts for the richest 1 percent while their children remain with no health care,” Mr. Dean said. “The dividing of working people by race has been a cornerstone of Republican politics for the last three decades — starting with Richard Nixon. … The only way we’re going to beat George Bush is if Southern white working families and African-American working families come together under the Democratic tent, as they did under FDR.”

North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, one of three Southerners in the Democratic race, protested: “Some of the greatest civil rights leaders, white and black, have come from the South. To assume that Southerners who drive trucks would embrace this symbol [Confederate flag] is offensive.”

Added Wesley Clark of Arkansas: “Every Democratic candidate for president needs to condemn the divisiveness the Confederate flag represents.”

Through a spokesman, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut chastised the Vermont governor as well. Campaign director Craig Smith said Mr. Dean “ought to be more careful about what he says.”

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