Tuesday, November 11, 2003

The Sideshow, Dean, and the "Stars and Bars"

I had been asked a little while ago what I thought of Dean's little screwup over the "people who paint Confederate flags on their cars" line. Personally I found it to be bad politics, because Dean is more likely to alienate people than attract them with that sort of line. Avedon Carol, however, disagrees, and I have to admit that she makes a pretty good case.

Dean could have been smoother (like including the context that gives the remark it's weight), but he was right in essence; one of the things people like me despise about the current occupant of the White House is that he is not a president for the whole country, but just for his narrow range of supporters.

As a Democrat, I already understand that not everyone in the party agrees with each other, so Confederate flags by themselves don't get my blood up much. What interests me is policies that will work for us all, and the guys with the Confederate flags actually have nothing to lose by abandoning the Republican Party, and Democrats lose nothing by letting those guys feel like they can be Democrats. The trick is to stop pretending that those damn flags are more important than whether people can feed and clothe their kids, plan for their futures, and take advantage of being citizens of the richest country in the world.

Meanwhile, blacks don't benefit from losing elections over trivia like flags and decals and then ending up with their economic choices and chances being slashed. The food on the table, the roof over your head, the places in the classrooms, the jobs - those are the things that matter. Crap like the Confederate flag is a distraction, and makes people take their eye of the ball.
Now, I'll admit that Avedon does have a point, but one of the things that people tend to forget about politics is that it isn't simply economics wearing a different mask. Politics is politics, and economics is economics... and although they overlap, trying to make them out to be the two faces of Janus is a bad idea. It isn't just about "economic choices", it's also about the social and political environment that you live in. That environment consists largely of symbols- politics is rife with the things, and anybody who has spent any time in the company of a fierce monarchist in the U.K. or a proud American (with their constitution) can understand just how powerful these symbols can be. The whole point of painting a confederate flag on ones car (or hanging it over your bedroom wall, or whatever) is its symbolic value.

The problem, though, is that nobody gets to control what that symbolic value means to other people, and with the confederate flag, that symbol means- and always will mean- support for racism, on one level or another. Like the swastika, any benign meaning it might once have had has been wiped clean away by the odious and racist acts that were perpetuated under its symbolic watch. Ignorance could be an excuse, but "heritage" definitely isn't, because that heritage is irrevocably tied up with one of the worst crimes against humanity that North America has ever been witness to. (Not the worst anywhere, and probably not even the worst in N.A., but awful enough to recoil from).

So, no, Avedon, there is something about "that damned flag". Not economically, but politically.

(That being said, I agree absolutely with Avedon that northerners do themselves no favors, politically, by lording "our middle-class tastes over those Hustler-reading, pick-up truck-driving, smoking drinkers of lager". That being said, its not like the judgement goes one way, and I'd say the South has had a lot more influence on American political culture lately than the North has.)

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