So Howard Dean called the Republican Party "the white party". Strategically speaking, this insult (he has said it before in other situations so it is neither a gaffe nor an accident) is beyond tone deaf and is sheer political idiocy. This moronic mouthing off plays into every standard stereotype of an arrogant Stevensonian elitist and adds fuel to the race-baiting fires already burning through the Democrats' support this year, thanks to Obama's smear-and-run campaign.
This is a different claim than if Dean had gone after the Republicans as the "racist party" or even the "anti-minorty party", which is what he probably thought he was doing. By making an insult out of a biological fact instead of a pattern of behavior, Dean has declared that he (and thus Democrats as such, being as how he is the DNC Chair) think that "white" is a suspect and dangerous category of person. He did a crude inversion of racist claims about non-whites and it says a hell of a lot about the moral and ethical midden between Dean's ears.
What has Dean done? He has replaced political claims with personal morality, and has attached that moral condition to a biological one. One of the things this electoral cycle has thrown into relief is the way in which Stevensonians like Dean make shame stand in for policy, and reduce structural problems in society into questions of personal choice. This approach intellectualizes material problems, such as health care or just compensation, rejecting relationships of power or even common sense evaluation of actual living conditions in favor of finger wagging at the people on the short-end of the stick. Retrograde social beliefs (Guns & God!) are the reason for economic stagnation, not the gutless behavior of Congress or state legislatures. It looks aside from power relationships that keep socio-economic elites in control, and doesn't want to sully its pure ideas with "pandering" i.e., providing material benefits to woo rank and file supporters away from the other side. "You people" should know that we are your salvation from your benighted lives. You should be smart enough to know better than to vote for the other guy, and you can't be mad if we dump on you for being so stupid. If you won't do what you know you should do, I'm going to call you WHITE, so there!
This is both insult and challenge. It offers only stick and no carrot, and it does so by trying to shame people for inhabiting a condition they cannot change - their own skin. This is why racial categories are so deeply pernicious; how can you stop being you genetic condition? Race rather than racism, a condition rather than a behavior, is targeted with no way out.
This has to be the absolutely worst way to try to get people to abandon their cultural identification. It is reducing the complexity of an individual to a stereotype rather than teasing out the parts of that identity that can be built up in opposition to the artificial simplicity of that stereotype.
What can it mean for an incredibly privileged male of Northern European ethnic decent to snear that the main opposition party is the "white party"? He may imagine that everybody who hears this of course understands that he means a particular mode of societal privilege that is normative for how individuals are ranked and treated and which is encapsulated in a speech act that accompanies the term "white", which is not equivalent to genetic inheritance but is rather a socially constructed pattern of rules, behaviors, unarticulated expectations for relative treatment accorded to specific individuals without regard for their particularity, but most people think Howie just said, "White people suck." And how is it that Dean can exempt himself and all of his predominantly white and male cohorts from that incendiary claim?
Like it or not, Howard Dean has just made the claim that if you are white, you are A) racist and B) Republican, your actual acts and deeds in this world not withstanding. The only way to be relieved of this taint is to vote Obama. Not even Democrat - you must vote for Obama. If Obama should fail at the polls, then all "white" Americans stand indicted for racism because that is the only way he can fail and the only reason for failing to vote for The Precious is you're just a racist white Republican at heart.
The impulse among old-line Stevensonian leadership to accuse other people of racism at the drop of a hat, categorically condemning millions of white voters, will do nothing to bring voters of all ethnicities together to support progressive politics. This is a fundamental failure of this faction within the Democratic Party and is why we consistently lose national elections.