Since I was going to appear on another show on CNN later that evening, I only heard parts of the Rock The Vote presidential debate that CNN broadcast Tuesday night. When I was listening from the other room, though, I heard parts of the lambasting Howard Dean got from the rest of the candidates about the confederate flag remarks.
On first blush, I thought that Dean was really getting unfairly pummeled and that the other candidates were just grandstanding. I think everyone knew the point Dean meant to convey. And that's a point that's hard to disagree with: namely, that Democrats need to seek the votes of working class Southern white voters who've been basically lost to the Democratic party for two generations.
As I listened to hullabaloo unfold, however, something else occurred to me. Dean's stubbornness and arrogance can be a big liability for him. When he got asked about the comment at the Rock The Vote debate there was a really straightforward way to answer ...
A) I stand by the point I was trying to make. B) If the way I phrased it offended you, I'm really sorry about that. C) You know, you speak a lot on the campaign trail. And sometimes you don't phrase something just the right way. But I'll try to be more careful about how I choose my words.
End of story. That would have been it, though his opponents would certainly have tried to milk it a bit longer. No big production of an apology would have been necessary.
But he couldn't bring himself to do it. And it was the headline out of the debate. And the headline yesterday with the semi-apology. And today when I brought up the CNN page the story about the full apology is practically breaking news.
One of Dean's selling points is the straight-talk thing, sorta like John McCain. So I don't think it would be a good idea for him to muzzle himself. But part of the straight-talk thing is being willing to quickly say "yeah, that was lame" when you put your foot in your mouth and then move on.
If he can't learn to do that, he'll have a lot of trouble ahead.