A National Pundit No More
For a while there, Zell Miller had quite a career going as the last angry man of Southern politics.
In the fall of 2003, as he was preparing to step down from his seat in the U.S. Senate, you could hardly turn on a cable news program without seeing Miller issuing a scathing denunciation of his former friends in the Democratic Party.
That was also when Miller published his magnum opus, A National Party No More, a 256-page screed in which he explained all the reasons why Democrats were just this far away from being destroyed as a credible political party by the Republicans.
Five years have passed since Miller wrote that book and was widely revered by the talking heads for his sagacious insights into America’s political future.
How have his predictions held up? There’s no better way to check than to quote Zell’s own words.
“Obviously, Southerners believe the national Democratic Party does not share their values,” Miller wrote. “They do not trust the national party with their money or the security of their country.”
He added: “The biggest problem with the party leadership is that they know nothing about the modern South ... . The modern South and rural America are as foreign to our Democratic leaders as some place in Asia or Africa.”
Obviously, Barack Obama did not read the book and benefit from Miller’s wisdom: He carried the Southern states of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, along with the rural states of Iowa and Indiana, in the 2008 presidential election.
Obama also came within five percentage points of carrying the deeply red state of Georgia and was a close second in the rural states of Montana and North Dakota.
Miller said this about the affinity of black voters for the Democratic Party: “I believe that the margin of African-American votes for the Democrats is going to change soon. It only has to change a fraction in the South to make a huge difference. Ralph Reed, the brilliant strategist and former Republican state chairman of Georgia understands this, as does Bush strategist Karl Rove and many other Republicans ... .
One thing is for sure, the automatic 90 percent for Democrats in the South will sooner rather than later be just a memory.”
Zell was correct. Democratic candidate Obama did not get 90 percent of the black vote in the 2008 election – he got 95 percent.
Miller also wrote: “It will be difficult for the Democratic Party to nominate a candidate capable of winning nationwide until it abandons the suicidal compulsion of allowing Iowa and New Hampshire to be the tail that always wags the Democratic donkey. Don’t misunderstand me. These are good states with good people living in them and good people representing them in public offices. But, not by any stretch of one’s imagination can the Iowa Democratic caucus be interpreted as representative of the nation.”
It hardly needs to be said that the first-place finisher in the 2008 Iowa Democratic caucus was a fellow named Obama. It didn’t seem to hurt his chances of winning nationwide.
Miller argued in his book that his old party “is no longer a link to most Americans. Each advocacy group has become more important than the sum of the whole. It is a national party no more. So bang the drum slowly and play the fife lowly, for the sun is setting on a waiting grave.”
Here is what the sun was setting on as the year 2008 came to a close: A Democrat was elected president by more than a two-to-one landslide in the electoral college. Democrats increased their majority in the U.S. Senate to at least 58 of the 100 seats. They increased their majority in the U.S. House to nearly 260 of the 435 seats. They picked up about 100 seats overall in the various state legislatures.
That’s a far cry from what the man from the north Georgia mountains was predicting five short years ago.
“If this is a national party,” Miller wrote in his typically colorful fashion, “sushi is our national dish. If this is a national party, surfboarding has become our national pastime.”
I think it’s time to look for the soy sauce and start waxing down that surfboard.