If Howard Dean is the Democratic candidate for the presidency, will he cause his party to seemingly abandon the precious “Southern Strategy”?
I can’t think of a more counter-intuitive idea, for it completely violates all conventional wisdom, the South being of course a political sacred cow, as well as a sort of political Maginot Line.
But Dean strikes me as already chafing at the bit, what with his “guns, God, and gays” remark and the (supposedly) “reckless” Confederate flag reference. I don’t think he is a follower of the conventional wisdom. Frankly, I think the man can’t wait to bash a few more sacred cows.
Howard Dean strikes me an astute politician who knows not only the importance of an appeal to the large, disgruntled, politically incorrect American middle, but who knows how to do it.
Right now, his national appeal is seen as hobbled by two, somewhat related things:

  • his “Southern” problem
  • his role as the most “gay-friendly” candidate
  • A “strategic retreat” (abandonment, really) of both the South and his gay base — at the proper time — would go a long way towards “cleaning him up” and it would not really cost him much in terms of support.
    By abandonment, I am not saying that he should attack the South or disavow a commitment to civil rights for homosexuals. I refer more to a carefully engineered, well-timed “Sister Souljah” type of event.
    Note: one blogger has already called the Confederate flag remarks Howard Dean’s “Sister Souljah moment.”
    Political price? Sure, such a move will always cost you with the activists or ideologues you attack (here is Sister Souljah’s statement), but bear in mind that the ostensible targets are not the intended audience — the real audience being the ordinary middle Americans who will remember the courage it took to stand up to the ideologues. The kind of people who might have otherwise stayed home but who voted for Schwarzenegger because of (and not in spite of) the attacks against him.
    The South is not going to be easily fooled by platitudes from Mr. Northern Big Super Liberal anyway, so if he acknowledges problems there (which he already has, really, with the “god, guns, gays” remark), they might not feel quite as condescended to. Then, if he deliberately creates distance between himself and the more radical fringes of the gay movement, he will be seen as an honest, fearless man who dares to be politically incorrect, and this will ultimately redound to his favor in the South.
    His advisors, if they have any sense (or Dean himself if they don’t), probably have something like this in mind:
    1. “Dump” the South!
    2. “Dump” the Gays!
    3. Then, once liberated from the baggage of these warring sacred cows (the desecration of which could be spun by the Machiavellian Dean as “a call for peace”), be “your own man” and go after Bush.
    Bear in mind that this approach is tactical, and is not based on my personal considerations of right and wrong.
    I am not at all sure that right and wrong have much to do with politics.
    Hey, while he’s at it, he could disavow Ted Rall. (Or at least make it a point to note that Rall criticized Dean for “supporting our troops!”)
    Almost forgot something, which shouldn’t matter at all to any rational person (which is why I nearly forgot it). That is Dean’s lack of a Southern drawl. He has a clear, ringing, Northern, almost Rooseveltian accent. Americans dislike judging people by their accents, of course, so they would never, ever, admit even the possibility of being fatigued by something like a dozen years of listening to presidents with Southern drawls.
    Forget I brought it up.
    Dean should not say one word about his failure to have a Southern drawl!
    PLEASE NOTE: The above scenario is not the same thing as the abrupt right turn people are predicting! (Link via Say Uncle.) The South is seen as “right” and gays are seen as “left.” Without debating the merits of such thinking, defying both would have a yin/yang, counterbalancing effect — and would make Dean appear not an unprincipled schemer who switches sides at will, but a true “centrist” — a statesman who knows that his time has come to represent “all the people.”