Monday, January 12, 2004

Dean's race record 

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is having his record on racial issues called into question, most recently during Sunday's final pre-Iowa debate.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Howard Dean, a former governor of mostly white Vermont, was put on the defensive on his record on race in the last debate before Democratic presidential campaign voting kicks off in a week.

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton forced Dean to acknowledge Sunday that no blacks or Hispanics served in his cabinet during 12 years as governor.

"Mostly white" doesn't describe the situation well enough. Vermont was 96.8% white in the 2000 census. I live in Maine, where the number was a similar 96.9%. And even in my town, one of the largest in the state, I can go days (and sometimes weeks) without crossing paths with a person from a minority group. In the smaller towns, you would have to go to one of the cities or you might never see a minority. I say this to demonstrate how few there are. (And as cold as it is right now, I think their scarcity is evidence of wisdom.)

So to try to attack Howard Dean for not having any minorities in his cabinet is not really fair. In a place like Vermont, in order to choose a minority for the cabinet, you would have to make the decision to go out and find a minority for the cabinet at all costs. It would be the equivalent of an employer walking around downtown Montpelier, begging every minority on the street to PLEASE come work at Company X. Short of that, the employer might not get even a single minority applicant, let alone fill a vacancy with a minority employee.

Diversity, as it is conceived in big cities or southern states, is simply not the reality on the ground in northern New England. Demanding diversity in Vermont is like demanding a ski resort in Florida. I'm no fan of Howard Dean, but he didn't create Vermont's demographics and he doesn't deserve to be attacked for having to work within that reality.
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