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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. nonford150 says:

    Agreed. Zell is the only Democrat I’ve ever voted for, and it was because of precisely that – he does represent the views and values of our general area, and was more conservative than the Republican nominee. He may tick off a few libs around here, but he’s on the right side of most of the folks in my county (where it must be pretty tough to be a D).

  2. dw says:

    I basically agree with you. The way I see it, the Dems for a long time had conservative and liberal wings, conservatives dominated by Southerners, liberals dominated by union-heavy Rust Belt and Northeastern states. The Republicans had the same wings, the conservatives primarily in the Midwest and West, the liberals primarily in the Northeast and West. After Goldwater and Reagan, though, the conservative wing of the Dems became the conservative wing of the GOP.

    All the “Dems are liberal” discussions belie the real change — the GOP has concentrated its base in a bloc of right-leaning and hard-right voters, freezing out moderates and liberals. If Bob Dole were to run now, he’d be a Republican, but he’d be a liberal one, one that would surely find himself running against a hard-right pro-life candidate from Wichita. The Dems are well positioned to become the moderate party in this country. Unfortunately, it’ll take 20 years for them to get there.

  3. McGehee says:

    I suppose Crowley would rather Zell voted like Max Cleland did. How many times was Cleland re-elected?


  4. Joseph Marshall says:

    Well, I, for one, see no reason why Zell Miller shouldn’t vote any way he pleases, but I’m bewildered why he still calls himself a Democrat. What piece of Democratic policy does he still support?

    I am also massively entertained, as always, by the “there’s just no place for a decent man of values” mantra. I suppose it has been repeated for so long that the people who use it think no more of it than “Hi, howarya an’ howsawif!”

  5. Bithead says:

    The Democrats are uncomfortable with Miller because he reminds them how far to the left they’ve traveled during his tenure.

    Which more or less justifies his discomfort with THEM… They both know how far left they’ve traveled . Thing is, he’s the only one of the two willing to admit it.

    And it seems to me that to anyone writing for Slate, (Other than say, a Horowitz) would consider anyone not in lockstep with the Democrats or even father left, to have moved right.

    Democrats, you see, consider themselves to be at the political center…. no matter how far left they’ve gone.

  6. Oceanguy says:

    the national Democratic party is in many ways much more moderate than that of Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale.

    If this were true, neither Gore nor Kerry would have ever been nominated. The fact of the matter is Kerry was chosen by the national Party as a moderate Democrat… Dem moderates are considered too Republican… That is a party that has moved and continues to move left. Kennedy Democrats are no longer welcome in the party. The Real JFK could not be nominated today… not as a Democrat anyway.