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Dean: Country needs serious discussion about race

Defends message on civil rights

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean addresses his statement about voters who display the Confederate flag during the Rock the Vote debate Tuesday.
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean addresses his statement about voters who display the Confederate flag during the Rock the Vote debate Tuesday.

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Democratic presidential nomination candidate Howard Dean talks to CNN's Bill Hemmer on Thursday.
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Howard Dean
Civil Rights

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean Wednesday said he regretted any hurt his comments on the Confederate flag may have caused, but defended his message on civil rights.

Slammed at a Tuesday night forum by other Democratic candidates for his remark that he wants to be a candidate for "guys with Confederate flags on their pickup trucks," the former Vermont governor, speaking at a campaign rally at Cooper Union, tried to smooth ruffled Democratic feathers, but staunchly defended efforts to reach out to all Americans.

"I believe that we have one flag in this country -- the flag of the United States of America," he said, echoing words used by some of his critics.

"I believe that the flag of the Confederate States of America is a painful symbol and reminder of racial injustice and slavery which (Abraham) Lincoln denounced from here over 150 years ago," he said, referring to Lincoln's 1860 speech at Cooper Union. "I do not condone the use of the flag of the Confederate States of America."

But Dean did not apologize. He said, "We're not going to win this country, and even worse, Democrats, if we don't have a big tent."

He said, "This country needs to engage in a serious discussion about race and that everyone must participate in that discussion."

Dean said, "I started this discussion in a clumsy way. This discussion will be painful and I regret the pain that I may have caused either to African-American or Southern white voters in the beginning of this discussion. But we need to have this discussion in an honest, open way."

During the Rock the Vote forum at Boston's Faneuil Hall Tuesday night, Dean was criticized by other Democratic candidates for his remarks. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina said, "The last thing we need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling us what we need to do."

He told Dean the remarks were condescending.

"The people I grew up with, the vast majority of them, they don't drive around with Confederate flags on pickup trucks," Edwards said.

On Wednesday, Dean said he understands Edwards' concerns about Northerners telling Southerners how to run their affairs, but said Americans need to know that all citizens "are in this together."

Dean said institutional racism permeates the country, even after the success of the civil rights movement.

"You have a better chance of being called back for a job interview if you are white with a criminal record than you do if you are black with a clean record, never having been arrested or convicted," he said.

He said he is "determined" that no one will be left behind in the discussion on racism, "no matter what their color and where they live."

"This will be a difficult and painful discussion and feelings will be hurt," he said. "... People of good will must stay at the table."

He said Americans must face the problem together "hand in hand" as Lincoln and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King urged Americans to do.

"We must have the dialogue that Bill Clinton promised us," he said. "We must have that dialogue. And we must continue the dialogue. We must all be at the table."


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