Jewish World Review Oct. 21, 2003 / 25 Tishrei, 5764

Bill Cotterell

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Consumer Reports

Is the Democratic Party clueless about the modern South? | Toward the end of his new book about why the Democratic Party has lost the South, Sen. Zell Miller, D — Ga., tells of a Georgia neighbor whose mule had ears so long they scraped the ceiling of his small barn.

The man jacked up the corners of the building and shoved flat stones under it, backbreaking labor that made the ramshackle barn even more unstable. Miller suggested digging out a few inches of the dirt floor, instead.

"Son, it ain't the mule's legs that's too long," the farmer replied, "it's them ears." When Miller retires next year to the mountain town of Young Harris, Ga., leading Democrats in Washington and Atlanta won't miss him. He has not only supported President Bush's tax cuts, war policies and judicial nominees, but has also told off his party in terms that families, corporations or politicians normally confide only to counselors behind closed doors.

"A National Party No More," is subtitled "Conscience of a Conservative Democrat," but the tagline could have been "No-Brainers We Can't Figure Out." Miller, who served four terms as lieutenant governor and two as governor, says that — like his neighbor with the barn — his party has a mule — like belief in the wrong approach. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR. )

"The biggest problem with the party leadership is that they know nothing about the modern South," Miller writes. "They still see it as a land of magnolias and mint juleps, with the pointy-headed KKK lurking in the background, waiting to burn a cross or lynch blacks and Jews." He focuses on the 2002 mid-term elections and the defeat of ex-Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who was leading U.S. Rep. Saxby Chambliss until the final days of the campaign. That's when congressional Democrats — absent Miller — lined up behind the government employee unions and fought Bush's creation of the new Department of Homeland Security.

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Miller, who campaigned for Cleland and made TV ads with him, wasn't surprised that the GOP cast the issue as a test of patriotism — and never mind that Cleland had lost both legs and his right arm in Vietnam.

The first thought on people's minds when the nation was attacked, was not, "Gosh, I sure hope those new federal employees have collective bargaining rights " A former Marine Corps rifle instructor, Miller believes the correct response to people who want to kill us is to kill them first. His party's presidential contenders, he frets, prefer asking the United Nations to issue stern warning resolutions.

His domestic view is similarly straightforward. Given a choice of tax increases or tax cuts, Miller says, the typical voter doesn't say, "Hmmm, that's a tough one." Miller sees national politics as a Dixie dilemma for Democrats. With southern moderates — Johnson, Carter, Clinton — the party won. When they strayed to the left, they lost the South — and their party lost the White House. In 1972, 1984, 1988 and 2000, Miller noted, the Democrats didn't carry any southern state.

"Gore's loss was different. Had he won any state in the Old Confederacy or one more border state, he would be president today," Miller writes.

"Chances are it's going to happen again. Obviously, southerners believe the national Democratic Party does not share their values. They do not trust the national party with their money or the security of the country." Pragmatic politicians peddle policy like corporate America marketed the New Coke or Edsel; no matter how much they may like it, they know what to do when the public isn't buying. But Miller sees his party perpetually cobbling together the same market niches that couldn't sell McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis or even Gore down south.

Miller calls them "the Groups" — with a capital G — including labor, the National Organization for Women, gays, gun control advocates and environmentalists. He says he quit going to Tuesday caucuses of Senate Democrats because they were dominated by "the Groups." "But Lord, those current presidential candidates in my party!" Miller writes. "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." Among his Senate colleagues, Miller sees John Edwards "shooting brightly through the skies like Halley's Comet," Joe Lieberman "steadily and surely plodding along like Aesop's tortoise" and John Kerry "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, with whom I served as lieutenant governor and governor," says Miller. "Clever and glib, but deep this Vermont pond is not."

Bill Cotterell is political editor of the Tallahassee Democrat. Comment by clicking here.


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