Howard Dean on Civil Rights
Former VT Governor; Former Democratic Candidate for President
A gaffe is when a politician blurts out an impermissible truth, then hastily recants lest he cripple his career. In the quotation above, Howard Dean committed a gaffe. He told an inconvenient truth. For the Republican Party may be fairly described as the white party, though this was not always true.
Before the New Deal, the Democrats were the white party, as they had almost zero black support, having been the party of secession and segregation while Republicans were the party of Lincoln and emancipation. In the Depression year of 1932, a majority of black Americans voted for Hoover and against FDR. Franklin Roosevelt swiftly ended that tradition in the North, where his New Deal drew support from black voters.
NADER: The gay and lesbian community would prefer our position to the position of John Kerry to what’s going on in Massachusetts. Certainly his position is better than Bush, but our position is the best.
A: We have an act that allows American citizens to be held without knowing what they’re charged with and without seeing a lawyer. To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened since 1798, with the Alien and Sedition Acts. We have a right to protection of our liberties. A lot of people died for that in the Revolutionary War. And I am not going to let the right wing of the Republican Party take those liberties away from us.
A: I oppose the proposal to amend the Constitution. In the 214-year history of the Bill of Rights we have never amended the First Amendment and we should not start now. I condemn flag burning and any other displays of disrespect to our national symbols. But I stand with Colin Powell, John Glenn and other patriotic Americans who have said the way to pay tribute to the flag is to defend the freedoms for which it stands.
DEAN: We do have African-American & Latino workers in state government.
SHARPTON: I said under your administration. Do you have a senior member of your cabinet that was black or brown?
DEAN: We had a senior member of my staff on my 5th floor.
SHARPTON: No, your cabinet.
DEAN: No, we did not. [But the cabinet has only] six members.
SHARPTON: Then you need to let me talk to you about race in this country.
DEAN: If the percentage of African-Americans in your state was any indication of what your views on race were, then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.
SHARPTON: But I don’t think that that answers the question. If you want to lecture people on race, you ought to have the background and track record in order to do that. Governors import talent. Governors reach all over the country to make sure they have diversity
DEAN: The Confederate flag is a painful symbol to African-Americans in this country because of what it represented. When we campaign, we’ve got to talk. They say race in the South or anyplace else in America, we’ve got to say jobs, because everybody needs a job, doesn’t matter what color they are or where they come from. We need to talk about the things that everybody needs: jobs, education & health care.
SHARPTON: Blacks in South Carolina are double unemployed to whites. We can’t use a class formula to go around that issue. Secondly, just having conversations with whites without real legislation, without real executive action is to trivialize our problems. We don’t need people talking to whites. We need people to do something about racism and about discrimination. Don’t reduce this to a coffee shop conversation. We need action. And a president leads, like Lyndon Johnson did. They don’t just have a conversation.
A: I have retracted and apologized for that statement. I still firmly believe we need a dialogue on race in this country and I think we need to appeal to white southern voters if we are going to have any success in the south. I think the way to do it is to appeal to things we have in common such as the need for jobs and education.
A: I believe that although I should not have used the symbol of the Confederate flag, that the thrust of our strategy is the right thrust. We have to get people to focus on what we have in common in the south and elsewhere in this country. We have to stop the Republicans from dividing us on issues like race and abortion and guns and start focusing on the need for jobs, healthcare and education. That is the way to bring southern white voters back to the Democrats.
EDWARDS: Dean still has not said he was wrong [to seek those votes]. Were you wrong to say that?
DEAN: No, I wasn’t. People who vote who fly the Confederate flag, I think they are wrong because the Confederate flag is a racist symbol. But I think there are lot of poor people who fly that flag because the Republicans have been dividing us by race since 1968 with their southern race strategy. I am tired of being divided by race in this country. I want to go down to the South and talk to people who don’t make any more than anybody else up north but keep voting Republican against their own economic interests.
EDWARDS: The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do. I grew up in the South. I grew up with the very people that you’re talking about. The vast majority don’t drive around with Confederate flags on pickup trucks.
BRAUN: In the Senate I opened myself up to the venom of the right-wing conspiracy by battling Jesse Helms over the Confederate flag. We have to as Democrats begin to engage a civil conversation how we can get past that racist strategy that the Republicans have foisted upon this country, how we can bring Southern whites and blacks and northern blacks and whites together, how we can come together to reclaim this country-and Latinos, and Asians, and Christians & Muslims & Jews & Protestants.
DEAN: We have to reach out to every single American. We don’t have to embrace the Confederate flag, and I never suggested that we did. But we have to reach out to all disenfranchised people. I understand that the Confederate flag is a loathsome symbol, just as I understood all the anti-gay slurs that I had to put up with in Vermont after I signed that bill were loathsome symbols. If we don’t reach out to every single American, we can’t win.
DEAN: Rev. Jesse Jackson went to a South Carolina trailer park which was inhabited by mostly white folks making $25,000 a year. We need to reach out to those people, too, because they suffer as well. I understand the legacy of racism and bigotry in this country. We need to bring folks together in this race, just like Martin Luther King tried to do before he was killed. He was right. And I make no apologies for reaching out to poor white people.
SHARPTON: But Confederate flags are not for white people. Jackson went to South Carolina with all of us protesting the flag. The issue’s not poor southern whites. Most poor southern whites don’t wear a Confederate flag, and you ought not try to stereotype that.
A: When I signed the civil unions bill, I didn’t know anything more about the gay community than I did 25 years earlier. I did it, not because I knew a lot about the gay community, it was because I believed every single American deserves equal rights under the law. I have come to know the GLBT community over time because I signed the first equal rights under the law bill for gay and lesbian Americans.
“I never got a chance to ask myself whether signing it was a good idea or not,” he says, “because I knew that f I were willing to sell out the rights of a whole group of human beings because it might be politically inconvenient for a future office I might run for, then I had wasted my time in public service.”
The message to middle-of-the-road voters is clear: You might disagree with me on this issue, but I am a man of principle. Gay rights has never been an issue in a national election campaign, so no one can predict its salience.
“It was the height of the civil rights movement, and there was enormous tension because they didn’t know any white people and I didn’t know any black people and we had a hell of a lot of learning to do,” Dean remembers. Just finding the right words in conversation so as not to give offense was a challenge.
The death of Martin Luther King in 1968 punctuated a transformative year. It solidified in Dean’s mind the importance of tolerance and understanding diverse points of view.
DEAN: I signed a civil unions bill which gave equal rights to gay and lesbian people when only 35% of the people in my state supported it. That’s what American people want. They do not want people who are going to promise them everything. What they want is somebody who’s going to tell them where they stand.
A: Too many in my party voted for the Patriot Act. We need more Democrats who are willing to stand against Bush’s reckless disregard for our civil liberties. As Americans, we need to stand up and ensure that our laws reflect our values. As President, I will repeal those parts of the Patriot Act that undermine our constitutional rights, and will stand against any further attempts to expand the government’s reach at the expense of our civil liberties.
In 2000, Dean signed a bill legalizing so-called civil unions in VT He did so without any public ceremony, which angered the gay community. However, during his 2000 reelection campaign, Dean never budged on his support for the civil-union bill even in the face of a withering assault from the Republican candidate.
In 1976 the National Governors Association expressed support for ratification and implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would constitutionally guarantee full citizenship rights and opportunities for women. In 1982 the drive for ratification fell short, and efforts to initiate the amendatory process were taken.
The National Governors Association reaffirms its support for the principles embodied in the Equal Rights Amendment, i.e., that equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on the basis of gender.
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George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)