Why Zell Miller Loathes Democrats
Michael Crowley has an odd piece in Slate which begs the question, “Zell Miller – Why the Democratic senator loathes Democrats.” Crowley contends that Miller is no longer the moderate DLC Democrat of old:
[T]he Miller of old is long gone. Nowadays Miller sounds like some kind of right-wing beat poet. Of Democratic values he says: “If this is a national party, sushi is our national dish. If this is a national party, surfboarding has become our national pastime.” Of John Kerry: “You can’t make a chicken swim, and you can’t make John Kerry anything but an out-of-touch ultraliberal from Taxachussetts.” National Democrats are “being cannibalized, eaten alive by the special-interest groups with their single-issue constituents who care about their own narrow agenda.”
This is pretty standard fare for Southern politicians and has been for years. While Dixie elects the occasional Democrat, they’re not typically from the John Kerry wing of the party.
According to the Republican story, a decade ago the Democratic Party was centrist enough for a Southern conservative like Miller. But in the Dean-Gore-Pelosi-Sharpton-Kerry era, there’s just no place for a decent man of values. As Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, told USA Today last week, Miller’s New York role is a sign that “the Democratic Party, under this nominee, has moved very far away from the center.”
This argument amounts to a basic truth wrapped in a major fraud. Democrats have tacked left in recent years (though more in tone than in substance). But Zell Miller has moved, too. Far from representing some lonely, abandoned Democratic center, Miller has become a cartoonish GOP partisan.
This is partly true. Indeed, the national Democratic party is in many ways much more moderate than that of Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale. At the same time, though, most white southerners who considered themselves staunch Yellow Dog Democrats switched to the GOP during the 1980s, a trend that has continued unabated. Were he to emerge as a candidate today, Miller would certainly be a Republican. He keeps the Democratic label, I suppose, for the same reason that Olympia Snowe and the like contine to call themselves Republicans.
Crowley uses words like “treason,” “betrayal,” and “fraud” to describe Miller’s voting record in the Senate, which tends to parallel that of the Republicans. What this misses is that our system is primarily representative. Zell Miller is a fairly conservative man who represents a very conservative state. Georgians voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush in 2000 and will do the same in 2004. It would be a betrayal if Miller opposed Bush’s policies, not the other way around.