The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat by Zell Miller
In A National Party No More Senator Zell Miller writes a non-fiction book that is something of a memoir of his political life as a lifelong Democrat and as well as being a diatribe against the Democratic Party. In 2002 the Democratic Senator Paul Coverdell from Georgia died suddenly and the Georgia Governor Roy Barnes asked Zell Miller to fill in until November of that year and then to run for the position to serve the time remaining in the late senator’s term of office. When Miller went to Washington D.C. he claims that he had hoped that he would find Washington to be “the place where great issues of the day are debated and solved, and great giants walk those hallowed halls.” Instead he discovered what Washington D.C. was not at all like he had hoped and this angered him “on behalf of Americans” (Miller 8).
In his career Miller has served the State of Georgia as an administrator of a number of “vital agencies, as an assistant to two governors, as head of the State Democratic Party, as Lieutenant Governor, and then as Governor” (Miller introduction no page number). He also served in the Georgia State Senate from 1965-1969. He failed in his attempts to run for the U.S. House of Representatives from Georgia. In addition Miller served in the U.S.
Marine Corps and has taught at four different colleges. It is worth noting that the majority of these positions are executive positions not legislative positions so serving as Georgia’s United States Senator put him into a relatively unknown form of government where he lacked extensive experience and none on the national level. It appears somewhat incongruous that a marine would be a lifelong Democrat since military personnel currently tend to lean toward the Republican Party. Although Miller served only three years in the Corps it is clear that his experiences affected him greatly because he has written a book Corp Values: Everything You Need to Know I Learned in the Marines.”
Miller’s book was occasioned by his experiences in the U.S. Senate beginning in 2000, in combination with his advanced age. Miller was born in 1932 according the reverse side of the title page. The book was published in 2003 so Miller was 70 or 71 at the time his book was published.
This is certainly not an issue of itself, but one wonders if Miller would make the same claims he had entered the same Senate at the age of forty or fifty. Miller alludes to this when he writes that he has “arrived at a station in life where I hear the whistle of that moral policeman we all have to answer to . . .” (Miller 1). He takes the occasion to advise “members of my Democratic Party and other politicians who are so far out of touch with regular Americans to ‘shape up'” (Miller 2).
This position, that tacitly assumes he is correct while other party members who disagree with him are wrong, is strongly reminiscent of an elderly gentleman on the brink of retirement who climbs on a soapbox to “straighten out” the next generation. This is not to say Miller does not make some good points, he just does not prove them nor give the reader sufficient information to determine if Mill is correct.
The book suffers significantly because it has no notes, no bibliography and no index. Consequently the reader has no opportunity to check either the statements Miller makes as being either true or false. Many of his claims are supported by anecdotal evidence based on his memory of what happened throughout his career.
Miller calls himself a Conservative Democrat, an unusual designation, but not an illogical one. Despite this he is known to have been a supporter of President George W. Bush and announced in 2003 that he would support the Presidents re-election. He spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2004 in support of the President. Such actions hardly indicate a lifelong Democrat.
Miller criticizes the Democrat Party because the leaders, he claims, have ignored the opinions of Conservative Democrats in the South, about one-third of the U.S. population, and have told them to “go to hell” (Miller 9). He appears to assume that all Democrats in the South are Conservative Democrats because he is one and that they all agree with him. He fails to mention the non-conservative Democrats in the South and seems to assume there are none.
Miller concludes the Democrat leadership disagrees with Southern Democrats on the critical issues of “capital punishment, late-term abortion (even with a lot of pro-choice people), trying juveniles as adults, national defense, and the teaching of values in school” (Miller 3). Miller’s reasoning process is suspect for a variety of reasons. First, it is not clear that these are the critical issues, at least on a national level. Capital punishment has been left up to the states and should not be regarded as a national issue, as are abortion laws as long as laws do not restrict a woman’s right to control of her own body. Trying of juveniles as an adult does not seem to be a national issue either nor should it be.
The current system presumes juveniles will not be tried as adults unless there are significant overriding reasons for doing so. The decision of where to try a juvenile is judged on a case-by-case basis which is as it should be. As far as the teaching of values as a national issue, it is clearly an important issue that impacts people throughout the country, but the Federal Government has no basis to determine what values should be taught.
Miller seems to have completely forgotten the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution that reserves to the states any powers not delegated to the federal government and not prohibited to the states shall be a state power. It is apparent that many of these critical issues are state issues. National defense clearly is a national issue, but federal taxes, the deficit, Medicare, and Social Security benefits are as well, but Miller doesn’t mention these issues.
Miller’s has a rambling and folksy writing style that slips from story to story and slides from point to point in a chaotic fashion that defies linear analysis. He chooses his anecdotes by cherry picking stories that will reinforce his position even if they are not related to the Democratic Party; on page 145 Miller quotes The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Winston Churchill, and Rodney King on the same page in support of a chapter entitled “Give to Bigotry No Sanction.” Certainly a case can be made for citing Rodney King, but the other two sources were clearly not written in support of civil rights in the United States.
To his credit Miller admits mistakes he has made during his career. He points out that during 1964 he had “proclaimed that there should be an ‘investigation of Communist infiltration in the civil rights movement.’ What an idiot!” (Miller 143). This is remarkably refreshing given the current climate of politicians who consistently hide what they have done and deny they have done it until they are proven to have done it when they will admit and ask for forgiveness. On the other hand this begs the question as to just how much credence one ought to place in the writings of a self-proclaimed idiot.
Miller claims that the Democratic Party no longer represents the majority of Americans and has become distinctly too liberal in relation to the United States’ population as a whole. This is an interesting position. Miller does not claim the leadership is wrong on issues, just that they disagree with Southern Conservative Democrats such as himself. This leaves the possibility open that the leadership is correct and the membership is wrong, but Miller fails to allow for this possibility. If this proves to be the case, it appears that Miller is advocating that the Democratic Party concern itself, not with the correct solution, but with gaining power again.
A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat is largely not successful. His conclusion has merit but his treatment of the issues is inferior. The lack of references is a major weakness that could be easily corrected. Miller’s failure to move in a linear, logical fashion in favor of using a disjointed, episodic style greatly reduces the effectiveness of Miller’s writing. Rather than being the scathing indictment he hopes to provide that will help the Democratic Party, Miller’s book feels more like a farewell by a statesman whose party has evolved while he has not. His gloom and doom predictions for the Democratic Party made in 2004 proved him incorrect since the Democratic once again gained the majority in both houses. Although Miller makes some interesting points that have validity, his book should be read with circumspection.
Barnes, Fred. “Zell Miller Endorses Bush.” 29 Nov. 2003. The Daily Standard. 20 April 2007.
Miller, Zell. A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat. Atlanta: Stroud and Hall Publishing, 2003.
“Text Of Zell Miller’s RNC Speech.” 01 September 2004. CBS News. 20 April 2007 ;http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/09/01/politics/
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