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A National Party No More: The Conscience of a
Many shades of folly
By Roger Banks
Advancement in age guarantees no corresponding advancement in wisdom, as Shakespeare's uncrowned Lear attests on the heath of his personal and political ruin, lamenting, "I am old . . . and foolish!"
But, alas, one need not invoke Elizabethan tragedy to recognize this time-honored principle. As revealed in Sen. Zell Miller's recently published and magnificent book, A National Party No More, the marriage of old age and folly is a daily matinee in Washington, especially among leaders of the author's own Democratic Party.
In words that are at once congenial and frank, and in tones that oscillate between eloquent and colloquial, between solemn and hilarious, the lifelong Democrat portrays his party as a purblind old mule on a cliff poised to take its final step.
Miller takes no pleasure in taking his fellow Democrats to task. As explained in the introduction by Judge Griffin Bell (who was appointed to the federal appellate bench by John F. Kennedy), Miller's "idea of representative government is that there is a common good and that each of us owes allegiance to the common good." Having devoted his life to serving the public (in local government, in the Marines, as lieutenant governor, then two-term governor of Georgia), Miller's allegiance to the common good is more than an abstract idea.
"I can't stand the thought of meeting my Maker," Miller explains, "without advising members of my Democratic Party and other politicians who are so far out of touch with regular Americans to 'shape up.' "
The malady identified by Miller stems in part from the invasion of what he calls "the Groups" — lobbies of special interests, wildly out of sync with the common good. These parasites flourish, Miller suggests, because the host, his party, is weakened by unprincipled ambition, megalomania, and poor judgment.
An example of the Groups' despotic power occurred in the weeks following the Sept. 11 attacks. Before Republicans gained control of the Senate, the Democratic leaders, writes Miller, "undermin[ed] the President of the United States on terrorism." Miller makes a compelling case that the Homeland Security Bill was blocked solely because Democrats lacked courage to resist the labor union bosses of federal employees.
Smelling the putrefaction that had come over his party, Miller could hardly believe his nose. Thralldom to a narrow interest group had caused its leaders to sacrifice the whole country's urgent security needs. The leaders also ignored Miller's warning that constituents at home would frown on the Democrats' votes against security. A few weeks later, the national elections left Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress.
Miller's vexation continues today, particularly at the antics of those aspiring to run against President George W. Bush in 2004. Their venomous attacks against the White House exacerbate "the difficulties of a nation at war." He identifies Howard Dean as "the worst offender." Unlike statesmen of the past, today's Democratic hopefuls are given to stunning self-absorption, failing to see that "some things are more important than making political points when a nation is in peril."
The Democratic Party is also led astray, Miller observes, by "mostly well-intentioned people [who] see so many shades of gray, they often miss the black and white." The author here coins an original rejoinder to the hackneyed criticisms of those in his party and in the media, who fault the Bush Administration for allegedly seeing issues "only in black and white."
Liberals posing as intellectuals, even post 9-11, still posit a world "beyond good and evil," seemingly unperturbed by the self-contradiction embedded in their thinking. But "[t]here comes a time," Miller affirms, "when a civilization has to choose between good and evil, between freedom and tyranny."
Recalling Shakespeare's tragic octogenarian, length of years alone cannot explain the spirit of discernment dwelling in the soul of this seventy-something senator from Georgia. But discernment it is, gracing nearly every page of his book, and, near the end, wisdom distilled, in 12 lucid maxims. Written originally as a gift for his grandchildren, Miller calls them "Some Lessons Learned by Seventy." They might also be titled "Things Revealed to Babes" or "Lessons Some Democrats Could Stand to Learn." Whatever one calls them, they are, as it were, a light shining on a dark Hill.
Miller's observations on people, as well as his views on controversial topics, including abortion, are always forthright, often fascinating, never predictable.
Of historic value are the senator's candid remarks on prominent national figures, including such members of the elected class as Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Phil Graham (R-Texas), former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); other politicos, like Pat Buchanan, Paul Begala, and James Carville; and many in the entertainment world.
Miller chronicles the special place of music in his personal and political life, including his successful plan in Georgia to promote musical education, beginning in infancy. For "rappers" who demoralize young people with violent and obscene lyrics, the senator offers a simple cure: "They should be horsewhipped."
He gives his unvarnished views on the Bush administration, and describes conversations he's had with the current and past presidents. Reflecting on Clinton's successful campaign in 1992, in which Miller played a key role, he recounts his enthusiasm for the values espoused, and his disappointment upon seeing the "mantra of values . . . evaporate . . . into the thin air of Washington." Although he excuses himself from writing about sex scandals and impeachment, Miller makes a few personal observations about Bill Clinton, which are especially interesting when juxtaposed with the aforementioned "Lessons."
Will the Democratic Party continue to be the agent of its own undoing? Or can it learn wisdom before meeting the fate of Lear? The answer may well depend on the party leadership's willingness to study this primer on common sense (which grows ever more uncommon in Congress) and to heed the call of the gentleman from Georgia.
Roger Banks is a writer and free-lance lawyer residing in Fairfax, VA. His writing has appeared in such publications as Human Events, News Max, The Washington Times, The Legal Times, The Journal of Commerce and others. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article is the author's adaptation of his book review first printed in the January 5, 2005 edition of the Legal Times.
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