Politics & Policy

Zell Was Right

Problematic party.

Last year, then-Sen. Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, wrote a scathing critique of the Democratic Party called A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat. A quick quiz–in the book, Miller said which of the following things:

a) “We have to be more aware that issues like abortion, like guns, like gay rights, have two sides, and that we need to address people who feel deeply about those issues and show a willingness to compromise”;

b) “We gave up on the South. And as Churchill said, ‘Wars are not won by evacuation; they are won by blood and sweat and toil and tears.’ We can make this the majority party of America in the future, but we must talk about our values. We must embrace people of faith in this party”;

c) “We are too coastal. We are too urban. We are too secular. And, most of all, we are too dovish. The public simply doesn’t trust us to keep them safe”;

d) all of the above;

e) none of the above.

The answer is “e.” These statements were made by Democratic consultant Lanny Davis, candidate for Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Roemer and former John Kerry campaign manager Jim Jordan, respectively. Many of the things that Miller said in his book have now become nearly conventional wisdom among Democratic loyalists. All the Democrats who now say that the party has foolishly given up on the South, that it is unable to connect with religious voters, that it is too beholden to liberal orthodoxy on social issues, that Americans don’t trust it on national defense, and that it doesn’t speak the language of most Americans should take a deep breath and repeat after me: “Zell Miller was right.”

This turnabout is extraordinary given the kind of criticisms that were lodged at Miller last year, especially after he amplified the arguments in his book in a humdinger of a speech at the Republican National Convention. An AFL-CIO official said Miller had “lost his damn mind.” James Carville said Miller was being “cynically manipulated by people who are greedy to hold on to power at any cost.” Well, Miller appears, in light of events, to have been the shrewdest cynically manipulated lunatic in all of human history.

“In the eyes of Middle America,” Miller wrote of the Democratic party, “it has become a value-neutral party.” That is almost mild compared with what other Democrats are now saying. Even Miller’s battering of the party for being too extreme on abortion has gained a measure of acceptance. Howard Dean of all people–another candidate to lead the DNC–now says, “I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats.”

It’s not just practical politicians who are sounding Zell-like. On national security, Miller worried how Democrats were getting tarred by their association with the most fervent anti-war elements of their party. The editor of the liberal New Republic has argued since the election for a “purge”–yes, a purge–of those antiwar zealots. Miller complained in his book about the influence of ham-handed consultants on the party. The liberal Washington Monthly just ran an article excoriating “a clique of Washington consultants who, through their insider ties, continue to get rewarded with business after losing continually.” Miller defended gun rights and explained how gun-controllers were out of step with the American public. Liberal New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof recently declared, “Nothing kills Democratic candidates’ prospects more than guns.”

“What I was telling them was right and correct, if only they had listened to it,” says Miller, who recently retired from the Senate. Democrats are essentially saying these days that they want a party in which someone like Zell Miller can feel comfortable. Alas, they used to have one. But, as someone once put it, today’s Democrats are a national party no more.

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate


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