Column: Don’t patronize the South

It’s tough being a Democrat from the South, especially one from Texas. These past weeks it just became a little bit tougher. While the Democratic National Committee licks its wounds after a thrashing in the gubernatorial races, “Democratic” Senator Zell Miller (D.-Ga.) rushes from “Meet the Press” to the Rush Limbaugh show pretending he knows why Democrats suck it up in the South. He doesn’t. But last Tuesday the Democratic presidential candidates proved they sure as hell don’t know either.

A few days before the “Rock the Vote” debate, in perhaps not the brightest moment of his campaign, Governor Howard Dean stated, “I still want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks.” In response to the first legitimate overture to the South, Democrats thanked Governor Dean with a royal ass whooping in front of a national audience. Al Sharpton used the opportunity to portray the Confederate flag as racist, and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) attacked the comments with another desperate attempt to jumpstart his failing “Look at me, I’m from the South” campaign.

Both Sharpton and Edwards made partially legitimate points. Even though the Confederate flag in its purest form is not racist, the Ku Klux Klan and other racist organizations have abused it – people who are viewed as an embarrassment by the overwhelming majority of the South. While Southerners understood what Dean was trying to say about the flag, it could have been said in a better way.

And John Edwards is right in that Southerners are tired of being stereotyped by Yankees who have probably never even set foot on southern soil.

But at least Howard Dean is attempting to cater to Southerners, no matter how poor a job he’s doing. Miller claims that Democrats lose the South because they are too liberal, but he is wrong. Democrats lose the South because they won’t explain why they are so liberal. Howard Dean has taken the first step in attempting to change this.

While Dean’s comments were on the stereotypical side, he brought up an obvious point. Southerners are different. It’s a simple fact of life. A fact I’m quite proud of. Yes, we drive pickup trucks. Yes, we talk slowly. And yes, the first flag I saw on the Fourth of July wasn’t an American flag. But that doesn’t make us stupid. The South is just different, for better or worse.

With the risk of being stereotypical myself (at least I’m not from Vermont), our different culture requires an approach to politics that a wide majority of Democrats simply do not get. Southerners don’t care so much about numbers and theories. We care about ideologies. It’s not politics; it’s attitude.

Yet, instead of trying to understand us, all too often Democrats view the South as some kind of third-world country lacking the intelligence to comprehend the vast well of knowledge that is liberalism. We get it. But we also get it when we’re being looked down upon. The last thing Southerners need is some stuck-up Yankee telling us how to live our lives. Why would we vote for a party that won’t even take the time to come off its high horse and legitimately fight for us? Democrats need to change this mentality if they ever want a shot at winning our vote.

Whether liberal Yankees like it or not, the South determines the fate of this nation. We hold 168 electoral votes and, standing alone, the South has the third-largest economy in the world. The South will vote Democrat if a Democrat actually gives a damn. Howard Dean showed through his comments that he’s one of the few willing to do so. Instead of trouncing the governor’s attempt to battle for the South, the Democratic candidates should follow his lead and improve upon it. Only when the Democratic Party finally decides to put up a genuine fight will they see a change in the region. We don’t hate liberals in the South, we just hate wimps.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet contributing editor.

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