“In 2003, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean found himself in hot water by suggesting that he wanted to be “the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks.” Not amused, John Kerry accused Dean of pandering to racists, Dick Gephardt insinuated that such Southerners were anti-American, and Al Sharpton scolded Dean for paying lip service to “America’s swastika.” Dean soon fell in line and muted his rhetoric.

Last month, I had the privilege of addressing some of these allegedly “racist,” anti-American, crypto-Nazis — the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The purpose of my speech was to point out that in 2008, anyone who embraces the Confederate flag is automatically considered beyond the pale. Even Republicans like Mitt Romney and John McCain are as quick to condemn the South’s most famous symbol as Dean was to shut up about it.

No one should be disqualified by virtue of their particular American heritage, all of which is inherently a mixed bag in this invariably “mixed” country. That a figure as high profile as Obama has suggested as much might be the best opportunity to broaden the limits of permissible dissent in the United States.”

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