Politics & Policy

The Terrible Wrath of Zell

The cry of the Disgruntled Democrat.

The commentators seemed universally baffled by Zell Miller’s speech at the Republican Convention. “He looked angry,” they couldn’t help noticing. “What was that about?” Red-faced and scowling, Zell delivered what several talking heads called a “jeremiad.” Wasn’t this a miscalculation? Wasn’t it too hot for a national TV audience? How could it possibly play in Peoria? Why did he do it?

They all missed the obvious explanation. Zell looked angry because he really was angry. And only a disgruntled Democrat could understand why.

Disgruntled Democrats have over time become an evergreen brand. Every few years, when the national party leadership takes another embarrassing lurch towards partisan pacifism, a new generation of Disgruntled Democrats is born. And they always come out angry.

As a card-carrying DD, let me explain this state of mind.

We are angry because the party we believed in has once again proven itself to be what its enemies had accused it of being: left-wing isolationists with an aversion to national defense or a robust military. A party that tends to “blame America first” (in the words of Jeane Kirkpatrick, herself a former DD) for every international problem. A party that believes all Americans must rally ’round the wartime flag, except when a Republican president is carrying that flag.

Once that dawns on you, your anger comes from two sources. You feel betrayed, let down by the party that always claimed to stand foursquare for national defense. You realize that your party is willing to sacrifice election after election, and with it your hopes for a progressive domestic agenda, to the pursuit of partisan cheap shots against a wartime Republican president.

But there is something else. You also feel like a sucker for being taken in by such a transparent con. It’s embarrassing. You were the one who told your friends after 9/11 (and after Desert Storm and Kosovo and…) that we Democrats had now put the Vietnam Syndrome behind us. Then it all happens again, when party leaders begin muttering “quagmire” after the third day in Afghanistan. Or screaming “fascism” over the Patriot Act. Or when they start playing politics with the homeland-security bill (Zell’s moment of truth).

And then you feel very much alone, like a Philip Nolan, man without a party. Or like a Joe Lieberman, a voice crying in the Democratic wilderness.

From time to time, that voice reaches a truly national audience, as it did on Zell’s big night. Those who haven’t felt what we feel have trouble hearing the message. But we get it. And there may be more of us than you’d think. (Or so I pray.)

As for the panning of his “jeremiad,” Zell doesn’t seem worried. He must know that Jeremiah got similar reviews in his time.

“Hans Moleman” is a lifelong Democrat who prefers to remain anonymous. He has no relation to the Simpsons character by the same name. Any similarities are purely coincidental.


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