WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean wants the white trash vote. That's not exactly what he said, but that's clearly what he meant when he said he wanted the votes of "guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.'' It was a beautiful moment. It produced at the very next Democratic debate the perfect liberal storm: a comedy of class snobbery, regional condescension and political correctness, with a touch of race-baiting thrown in for good measure.
It began with a student at the CNN debate on Tuesday declaring himself offended by Dean's remark. It included the ever-reliable Al Sharpton charging Dean with cuddling up to Stonewall Jackson. It was highlighted by Dean saying, in essence, that he is not a Confederate -- indeed, it seemed, that every candidate was ready to declare undying allegiance to Lincoln and the Union -- but that if the Democratic Party wanted to compete it would have to go after poor Southern whites.
Then, the loveliest touch of them all. Constrained by the ruling Democratic dogma that everyone, even your rebel-yelling racist redneck, is a victim, Dean absolved these yahoos of responsibility by explaining that responsibility really lies with those nasty Republicans who taught them their racism: "I think there are (a) lot of poor people who fly that flag because the Republicans have been dividing us by race since 1968 with their Southern race strategy.''
And to show how ecumenical is his belief in outreach, he cited the fact that Jesse Jackson had just last week visited a trailer park full of white, um, folks: "We need to reach out to those people, too.''
Those people? All this proved a bit much for John Edwards, whose knowledge of the South is firsthand and not anthropological. Edwards, who grew up white, working class and Southern, made the devastatingly correct observation that Dean's problem is not racism but condescension.
Edwards is too politic to say it, but it's not hard to read the subtext of his rejoinder -- that this snob from the very White Mountains of New England thinks we Southerners are the kind of trash James Carville once said (of Paula Jones) you find by dragging a $100 bill through a trailer park. You could almost hear Edwards saying: Vote for me, another Southern white like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- winners both -- rather than another effete Northerner, this one from the mean streets of Montpelier.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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