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By Bruce Walker
The recent warm welcome that the National Rifle Association gave Zell Miller illustrates what could be the most interesting development in American politics for a long time: what if Zell Miller seeks the Democrat nomination in 2004? As I noted last week, Democrats demand pristine ideological purity before nominating a presidential standard bearer. More and more, even moderately liberal Democrats are not welcome in the Democrat primaries.
This accounts for the large number of governors who have carried the Democrat banner since 1976. Carter, Dukakis, and Clinton were the Democrat nominee in five of the last seven elections. Running a state government does not require taking positions on federal tax policy, national defense, or foreign affairs. These governors did not have to defend voting records in Congress and they could fall back on vague generalities that masked their radical ideology.
Is Zell Miller too conservative for the Democrat Party? His 2001 voting record was given a sixty percent rating by the American Conservative Union, but John McCain during the same period received a sixty-eight percent favorable voting record by the American Conservative Union. If Zell is more liberal than John McCain, and if McCain is seriously touted as a Democrat candidate for 2004, then Miller is obviously not too conservative for Democrats.
Is Zell Miller a "real Democrat"? Well, he has been a Democrat longer than anyone being mentioned as a possible Democrat candidate for President today, and the Washington Post in 1998 called him "the most popular Governor in America."
Why should conservatives want Miller, who is not nearly as conservative as President Bush, to run for the Democrat nomination? Several reasons. Miller is plain spoken and honorable, and those are two qualities which all Americans should want Democrats to respect again (for the sake of the nation). Miller also can end the free ride that liberals have had within the Democrat Party over the last thirty years.
Once the Democrat Party really was a "big tent." No one was tougher on the Soviet Union or stronger for national defense than Scoop Jackson. Daniel Patrick Moynihan could point out the social disaster of welfare without being shouted down as a racist. Reuben Askew could condemn school busing as harmful nonsense. Dick Lamm could fret about entitlements and the national debt.
Slowly all independent thought was choked out of the Democrat Party. Democrats were offerred choices of "Tweedle-Left and Tweedle-Lefter." While Republicans embraced Rudy Giuliani, Pat Buchanan, Arlen Specter, and Newt Gingrich, even the deeply respected Democrat governor of Pennsylvania was denied an opportunity to speak out against abortion - the single major issue in which he differed from his partisan brethren.
Why is this next election cycle the one for Miller to run? In 2004 President Bush will have a luxury that no Republican has had in twenty years: a cakewalk to the Republican nomination. Democrats, by contrast, have many potential candidates with even the front-runner, Al Gore, not particularly popular. Moreover, all these Democrat potential candidates - Gore, Hillary, Daschle, Edwards, Bayh, Kerrey, and Gephardt - have very liberal voting records.
Just as liberals rooted for John McCain in 2000 to weaken George W. Bush, conservatives could root for Zell Miller to bring some sense back into the Democrat Party. New Hampshire and South Carolina are open primaries, and no Republican needs to worry about casting a ballot to re-nominate President Bush. But what about going to the polls and voting for Zell Miller to be the Democrat nominee? It is very likely that Miller could get more votes than any Democrat, and it is possible that Miller could get an absolute majority of votes in the Democrat primary.
Remember the mischief liberals played with the Republican primary in Michigan? Republicans could return the favor and turn out in droves to give Zell Miller a victory here as well. Arizona and Wisconsin are among several states in which Republicans could make Miller then man to beat.
But Zell's support would reach far beyond Republicans who did not really intend to support the Democrat nominee in November 2004. The National Rifle Association, the Teamsters Union, the American Legion (which Gore stiffed in 2004) could find a Democrat to rally behind, and high percentages of the members of these blue collar, patriotic groups are Democrats.
Zell's strong support of President Bush after September 11th including the colorful "Those nit pickers need to find some other nits to pick" would appeal to those liberal Democrats who are seriously frightened and angered by September 11th, burning synagogues in Europe, and nearly treasonous statements by members of Congress.
Miller's straight talk would also appeal to those alienated voters who backed Perot and Buchanan in past elections. The dying Reform Party has no place for its members to go, and Miller could easily be the most appealing man in either party for many of these disenchanted Americans.
Zell Miller could easily gain a quarter to a third of the Democrat delegates and enter the convention with more delegates than any other Democrat. Liberals forget that George Wallace received more votes in the Democrat primaries in 1972 than any other Democrat (including George McGovern). This forced the Democrat leadership to show just how liberal it was, and Senator McGovern ended up carrying only one state of the union, with the AFL-CIO declining to endorse the Democrat nominee for the first time in modern history.
Miller might win the nomination, particularly if liberals savage each other in an effort to get the nomination. He might win the Presidency, but he would certainly discourage liberals from voting in the general election. This would mean that Republicans would gain seats in both Houses of Congress, even as a tough talking Democrat recaptured the White House (this is exactly what happened in the 1960 election).
Liberals might also choose to field a third party candidate on the left, as a way of giving liberals a reason to vote without endorsing Miller. This would probably insure Miller's defeat, and it would leave deep wounds without the Democrat Party for the next election cycle. It could end up with Miller's moderate Democrats actually taking control of the Democrat Party, which would mean a sensible political party instead of the macabre spectacle of men like Daschle, who seem much more interested in control of the Senate than in control of our energy resources or borders against terrorism.
The real question is this: would Zell Miller want to run? Although a gadfly to Daschle, Zell is instinctively a loyal man (he did not run against Republican Senator Paul Coverdell in 1998 out of deep personal respect for the Coverdell), and that loyalty extends to his political party as well. But it is just this sense of loyalty that might convince Zell Miller that he needs to run for the Democrat nomination.
As an ex-Marine, he has a deep love of America. As a man who was first
elected to public office as a Democrat forty-three years ago, he also
knows what good Democrats look like. Zell might run precisely so he could
return the Democrat Party to the moral principles that Senator Russell
from Georgia so personified for so long. He might run because Miller sees
the chasm America faces, and knows better than Daschle that politics should
end at the water's edge. Zell Miller might run not out of any special
hate, but out of special loves - including saving his own political party
from an unconscionable and insatiable lust for power at any costs.
Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.
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