Dean’s Southern Strategy?

This statement by Dean is clearly not as bad as his rivals are making it out to be:

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

I suspect Dean was just looking for a way to say “poor, rural, white voters” and this is what came out. His earlier invocation of the Confederate flag shows this more clearly:

“White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us, and not [Republicans], because their kids don’t have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.”

Even though I don’t think this is some nefarious Dean version of Atwater’s “Southern Strategy,” he should stop for two reasons. First, it’s wrong. The Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. Second, let’s face facts: if he wins the primary, Dean’s not going to win any Southern states in the general election, with the possible exception of Florida, where the Confederate flag is not nearly as much of an issue. So he stands little to gain by mentioning it again.

Incidentally, this is precisely the reason I see no ill intent in Dean’s misguided Confederate flag references. He has nothing to gain in the national election, and actually stands to lose in the primaries (gains in, say South Carolina primaries — where Clark now leads — would be offset in other states). He does, however, need to find another way of referring to low-income rural white voters. I don’t have a recommended replacement phrase, but I strongly urge the Dean campaign to avoid any phrases involving the words “red”, “neck”, “hillbilly”, and “hick”, or gratuitous references to Deliverance.


UPDATE: Matt Yglesias initially agrees with my assessment of Dean’s chances in the South, but then points out that “On the other hand, the important thing to keep in mind about the Dean campaign is that it’s beaten expectations at every turn so far so even though he obviously can’t win in the South, maybe he can.”