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Ever since he first came to the United States Senate, to serve out the term of the deceased Paul Coverdell, Zell Miller has been the conservatives favorite Democrat. So much so that when Jim Jeffords bolted the GOP in 2001, many harbored the hope that Senator Miller would join the GOP. He had after all cosponsored and been the sole Democratic vote in favor of President Bush's tax cut in the Senate. But, no, he's stubbornly, and admirably, insisted that it's his duty as a lifelong Democrat to drag this party back towards the Center-Right, where he is, rather than just quit and join the party of the Right, where he might fit in better. His Senate seat comes up for election again next year and he could easily win re-election regardless of which Party he represented, but sadly he's decided to retire. Fortunately for the Democrats, he's decided to leave with one last heartfelt plea to his cohorts to get back into the mainstream of the American political dialogue. That plea comes in the form of this new book, which is part political memoir, part polemic, and all a rousing good read.

The case Mr. Miller presents is pretty simple: The Democrats have ceased being a national party at least to the extent that they can no longer compete in the South on the presidential level unless the nominee is a Southerner, running as a conservative:
Once upon a time, the most successful Democratic leader of them all, FDR, looked south and said, "I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished." Today our national Democratic leaders look south and say, "I see one-third of a nation and it can go to hell."

Too harsh? I don't think so. Consider these facts. In 1960, the state of Georgia gave the Democratic nominee, John F. Kennedy, a higher percentage of its vote than JFK's home state of Massachusetts. Only the percentage in Rhode Island was greater.

And Georgians were not disappointed in Kennedy's performance as a chief executive. He stared down the Russians over Cuba and he cut taxes in a significant way that stimulated the economy. Had he not been assassinated, he could have carried Georgia a second time.

In the past nine elections, except for 1976, when regional pride was a huge factor and native son Jimmy Carter lost only Virginia among the 11 states of the old Confederacy, the scoreboard read like this: In 1968, Hubert Humphrey carried Texas because of Lyndon Johnson, but no other state. Jimmy Carter in 1980 carried only Georgia; the others left the incumbent. In 1992, another native son of the South, Bill Clinton, carried four: Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana and Tennessee. In 1996, Clinton carried Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida. So, four times -- 1972, 1984, 1988, and 2000 -- the Democratic candidate couldn't carry a single Southern state. Not one! Zero! Zilch! And two times, 1968 and 1980, only one Southern state favored the Democratic candidate.

Either the party is not a national party or the candidates were not national candidates. Take your pick.
Things have gotten so bad that in 2000, Al Gore, a native son, lost not only the rest of the South but his own home state. In addition, the party has been nearly wiped out at the congressional--except in majority African-American districts--and statehouse levels in many states. For example, with just a few breaks in the coming elections--likely winning the open seats of Fritz Hollings (SC) who's announced his retirement; of John Edwards (NC) and Bob Graham (FL), which they seem set to forsake; and maybe that of John Breaux (LA) who's hinted at retiring and possibly winning the contested seat of Blanche Lincoln (AR)--the GOP would hold just about every Senate seat in the South (I think the only exceptions would be Mary Landrieu [LA] and Bill Nelson [FL], both moderates)

What has caused this grave state of affairs? Obviously the South is a generally conservative region and the Democrats a generally liberal party, but the generally conservative GOP has nothing like this level of problem in the generally liberal Northeast or Northwest. It is the curious case that a popular Republican presidential candidate can carry pretty much every state of the Union, while no Democrat since LBJ's flukish post-Assassination win has enjoyed such a landslide in the past fifty years. Democrats seem limited in a way that Republicans do not.

Senator Miller begins with a discussion of how badly the Democratic leadership misunderstands the new South--a misunderstanding displayed most recently by Howard Dean with his patronizing comment that he wants to "be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks"--but then he gets to what may be the even more salient factor:
The national Democratic Party is in imminent danger of being cannibalized, eaten alive by the special-interest groups with their single-issue constituents who care about only their own narrow agenda. This is exactly what happened to the Whig Party as the Civil War loomed on the horizon. With self-interest rampant among a lot of different groups, the center would not hold and the party died.

I own a fiddle that supposedly belonged to Zeb Vance, the great North Carolina mountaineer who was elected that state's governor in 1862. He opposed much of what Confederate President Jefferson Davis was doing in Richmond. He was too young to be involved in the Whig Party at the height of its popularity, but he had been "born a Whig" and many thought this moderate, independent-minded, vigorous young leader might be the one to keep the party alive in the South.

When he was approached to do so in 1865, Vance was typically direct: "The party is dead and buried and the tombstone placed over it and I don't care to spend the rest of my days mourning at its grave."

Like that Whig Party of the late 1850s, the Democratic Party of today has become dangerously fragmented, and considering the present leadership it can only get worse. Compromise will become increasingly difficult and no leader's goal will be to reach consensus or common ground. Instead, they will more than ever blindly champion this group and that group.

The special-interest groups have come between the Democratic Party and the people. The party is no longer a link to most Americans. Each advocacy group has become more important than the sum of the whole. It is a rational party no more. It is a national party no more. So, bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly, for the sun is setting over a waiting grave.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the truth of Senator Miller's accusation than the recent assertion of John Judis and Ruy Texeira that it is precisely by courting such special interests that the Party could achieve an Emerging Democratic Majority. A party that has made a conscious decision--as Democrats may have--to try to win by appealing to those who favor abortion, homosexuality, affirmative action, etc., has obviously abandoned the notion of competing in Red America as well as the concept of enunciating broad intellectual themes. Republicans are the party--at least rhetorically--of smaller government, lower taxes, free enterprise, and traditional social values. Democrats are, quite openly, the party of NOW, the NEA, the NAACP, NARAL, La Raza, the Trial Lawyers, GLAAD, etc.. One party has a philosophy of governance, the other an alphabet soup with which it tries to spell out electoral victory. Senator Miller is warning that the latter just isn't adequate for a national party.

If the tone of much that he has to say has the quality of a lament, the tone shifts almost to contempt when he gets to the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates. First he dismisses them as a group and personally:
[L]ord, those current presidential candidates in my party! They are good, smart and able folks but if I decide to follow any of them down their road, I'd have to keep my left turn signal blinking. All left turns may work on the racetrack, but it is pulling our party in a dangerous direction. [...]

Just look at them. They are convinced most Americans will like what they see: John Edwards, shooting brightly through the skies like Halley's Comet. Joe Lieberman, steadily and surely plodding along, one labored step at a time, like Aesop's tortoise. John Kerry, the New Century's Abraham Lincoln, posing for Vogue in an electric blue wet suit with a surfboard tucked up under his arm like a rail just split. It made me wonder, are there more surfboards or shotguns in America? There's also Bob Graham, who made Florida a great governor, and Howard Dean of Vermont. Clever and glib, but deep this Vermont pond is not.
Ouch! But then he treats the way in which their contest is pushing them to a defeatist position on the war on terror and the vituperative nature of their anti-war, anti-Bush rhetoric:
As much as I deplore my party's reputation for sucking up to...left-leaning special-interest groups, there is another rip in our heritage, in our image, that I regret even more. I fear some of the Democratic presidential candidates are treading on very dangerous ground for the party, and, more important, for the country. I do not question their patriotism; I question their judgment. They are doing what politicians often do, playing to the loudest, most active and most emotional group of supporters, feeding off their frustration while clawing to find some advantage. I've done it myself and lived to regret it.

A demagogue is defined by Webster as "a political leader who gains power by arousing people's emotions and prejudices." Isn't that exactly what some of them are doing? Some of the liberal media excuse these actions by calling them "populism." Populism, my butt! Its demagogy, pure and simple.

Howard Dean, while not alone, is the worst offender, and it says a lot about the current Democratic base that he has emerged as the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president. He likes to say he belongs to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, but I say he belongs to the whining wing of the Democratic Party.

Angry and red-faced, these doom-and-gloomers need to take some "calm-me-down" pills. Over the years I've learned to beware of candidates who yell and scream and jump up and down. Usually what they're saying has so little substance they have to make up for it with histrionics. But they should realize that their overheated rhetoric is dividing the country when they should be helping unite it.
That's pretty devastating stuff and it's no surprise, given the depth of these convictions, that Senator Miller endorsed George W. Bush's re-election bid last week.

So much for the juicy bits--which let's be honest, is what gives this book the buzz it's generating right now. But the rest is terrific too. Senator Miller is quick with country music, baseball and Marine Corps references--all of which played important roles in his life--and the text is rich in anecdotes from a forty year career in politics. While he doesn't have a specific prescription for saving the Democrats, he does take advantage of this opportunity to plump for lifelong goals and to vent against pet peeves. Here he shows that he truly is a man with a foot in both camps as he comes down equally hard in favor of things like Campaign Finance Reform, getting rid of the Senate filibuster, limiting abortion, removing the Confederate symbol from the Georgia flag, environmental protection, computers in every classroom, tax cuts, balanced budgets, a strong defense and the war on terror. It's a varied and truly centrist set of positions. Folks tend to lose sight of the fact that though Mr. Miller may be the Democrat farthest to the Right in the Senate, he'd only have a handful of Republicans to his Left if he switched parties--and they would be exclusively from the Northeast.

We're even less sanguine than the Senator about the prospects for Democrats moving back to the middle, so Mr. Miller may indeed be one of the last of a great breed: the conservative Southern Democrat. That he retires with his conscience intact--having remained loyal both to his own principles and to the party which once shared them or at least acknowledged that they had a vital role to play even in the Democratic Party--is a fitting capstone to a fine career in public service. We could use more like him in both parties.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A)

  

Websites:

See also:

Politics
Zell Miller Links:

    -OFFICIAL SITE: Senator Zell Miller, Democrat from Georgia (U.S. Senate)
    -Zell Miller (Wikipedia)
    -Zell Miller: 2002 Politician Profile (Open Secrets)
    -BOOK SITE: A National Party No More (Stroud & Hall )
    -EXCERPT: Givin' 'em Zell: This is the first of two excerpts from "A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat" by Zell Miller (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
    -EXCERPT: from Conscience of a Conservative Democrat (Washington Times)
    -ESSAY: George Bush vs. the Naive Nine: Why this lifelong Democrat will vote Republican next November. (ZELL MILLER, November 3, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Our Party Needs To Embrace Tax Cuts. . . (ZELL MILLER, 11/15/02, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Questions for the Commander in Chief (Zell Miller, September 8, 2002, Washington Post)
    -INTERVIEW: CONVERSATION WITH ZELL MILLER (Ingram Library, May 19, 1986)
    -INTERVIEW: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat: Interview with Sen. Zell Miller (Matthew T. Joe, November 18, 2003, Townhall)
    -ESSAY: Zell Miller Endorses Bush: The Democratic senator from Georgia comes out swinging for the president. (Fred Barnes, 10/29/2003, Weekly Standard)
    -ESSAY: Politics are out of place in time of war (Kathleen Parker, November 1, 2003, Town Hall)
    -ARTICLE: Sen. Zell Miller: Democrats out of Touch (Newsmax, 9/05/03)
    -ARTICLE: Ga. Senator Lambastes Fellow Democrats (Jeffrey McMurray, October 22, 2003, Associated Press)
    -ESSAY: A Man of Honor Bows Out (Thomas D. Segel, January 10, 2003, Men's News Daily)
    -ESSAY: Hillbilly heartache: A Georgia senator gets a dose of reality. (Joe Bob Briggs, May 2003, Reason)
    -PROFILE: Who is Zell Miller these days? (Scott Henry, 7/31/03, Creative Loafing)
    -ESSAY: Zell Miller rips Washington 'bribery' (JIM GALLOWAY, January 15, 2002, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution)
    -ESSAY: Raising Zell: Why not make Zell Miller majority leader? (John J. Miller & Ramesh Ponnuru, December 14, 2001, National Review)
    -PROFILE: Sen. Zell Miller defies radical left to do what he believes is right (Dick Williams, 1/22/01, Atlanta Business Chronicle)
    -ESSAY: Zellout (Joshua Micah Marshall, 5.7.01, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: Has Zell Miller Gone Right . . . Off the Deep End? (Joshua Micah Marshall, January 22nd, 2001, The American Prospect)
    -ESSAY: A Tough Zell: Georgia's new senator will be a formidable opponent. (Phil Kent, 7/26/00, National Review)
    -PROFILE: The 'Perfesser' and the 20th Century: Zell Miller Makes Sense of It (Don Schanche Jr., 1999, The Southerner)
    -ARCHIVES: "zell miller" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of Conscience of a Conservative (Jonathan Karl, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW: of A National Party No More (RICHARD HYATT, Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer)
    -REVIEW: of A National Party No More (Barbara Kay, Frontpage)
    -REVIEW: of A National Party No More (Rut Texeira, Washington Monthly)

Book-related and General Links:


DEMOCRATS AND THE SOUTH:
    -ESSAY: The Democrats Need a Non-Southern Strategy (Thomas F. Schaller, November 16, 2003, Washington Post)
    -ESSAY: Dems target 'NASCAR dads': Candidates hope economics - and cars - will bring white southern men back to the party of their grandfathers. (Patrik Jonsson, 9/12/03, The Christian Science Monitor)
    -ESSAY: Is the Democratic Party clueless about the modern South? (Bill Cotterell, Oct. 21, 2003, Jewish World Review)
    -ESSAY: Let Them Eat War: Why do the very Americans who have been hurt the most by George W. Bush's policies still support his presidency? (Arlie Hochschild, October 8, 2003, Mother Jones)
    -ESSAY: Day of the Spoiler: Inside Joe Lieberman's Kamikaze Campaign (Rick Perlstein, October 22 - 28, 2003, Village Voice)
    -ESSAY: The Democrats Can Win without a Southerner at the Top of the Ticket (Martin Halpern, 10/20/03, History News Network)
    -ESSAY: Don't Stop Thinkin' About... A Landslide? (Chuck Todd, July 9, 2003, NationalJournal.com)

Comments:

An excellent review.

Zell Miller is quite the seer. His predictions of George W. Bush's reelection victory on Nov 2, 2004 and of the crushing defeat of the Democratic Party in both Houses are practically prophetic.

Unfortunately for the Democratic Party Miller had been treated like Cassandra.

Miller's description of Howard Dean in his book now looks like an accurate prediction of that infamous Dean Scream. Even more telling is Miller's assessment of the surfboard toting John Kerry, the challenger who got slammed by the wind-surfing ads.

The defeat of Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) must have been a particulary sweet vindication for Miller.

- Michael Lam

- Nov-12-2004, 18:47

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Excellent review! I have to make a radio program about US elections at Radio Ritmo (Getafe, Spain) and I will use part of it to explain the peculiar situation of the Democratic Party in southern states.

- César Álvarez

- Oct-19-2004, 08:28

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The good senator is a truthful man, who tells some hard things to those he cares deeply for. But the Democratic Party has lost its value for truthfulness and timeless wisdom. When Senator Miller quotes Aesop or Greek philosophers, he might as well be speaking Russian; hell, more Dems would be likely to understand him if he spoke in crude Russian!

The fanatical single issue groups are killing the Democratic Party, and that is a shame. It will leave no one to represent the working class of this country, as the Republicans represent the corporations and knee-jerk religious ideologues. Once had one of the latter tell me that I got laid off due to my own fault and my own sin, and the man had absolutely no idea what the circumstances were or why. That is the rank and file of the Republican Party today, 'Get a job' indifference and callousness.

This coming election is the Democrats to lose; and it looks like they plan to lose it.

We need a new party to represent the common man once again.

- rglencheek

- Nov-10-2003, 12:46

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Excellent review.

And I was right about him not jumping. Just sayin'.

- Chris

- Nov-04-2003, 14:48

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