Miller Fires Away

Posted October 15, 2003 at 6:33pm

Sen. Zell Miller sharply criticizes national Democratic leaders for allegedly pushing the party to the left and writing off the South in a new autobiography that sheds the brightest light to date on the Georgia Democrat’s political thinking.

Miller uses the book to urge party leaders to be receptive to ideas promoted by people other than Washington’s powerful liberal interest groups and union heads. But in doing so, he offers a harsh assessment of Democratic election prospects in 2004, and suggests the current field of candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination has little chance of winning next year.

While he describes these candidates as “good, smart, and able folks,” he also chastises them for pandering to left-leaning interest groups.

“Whenever the candidates encounter a Political Action Committee group, they preen and flex their six-pack abs for ‘the Groups’ like body builders in a Mr. Universe contest,” Miller writes in the book, “A National Party No More; The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.” “Or, perhaps more appropriately I should compare them to streetwalkers in skimpy halters and hot pants plying their age-old trade for the fat wallets on ‘K’ Street.”

He offers candid appraisals of all the candidates, but saves his most scathing critique for Democratic presidential frontrunner Howard Dean, whom he describes as “Clever and glib, but deep this Vermont pond is not.”

Expanding on his thoughts about the current field of Democratic candidates in a later chapter, Miller suggests some of them “are doing what politicians often do, playing to the loudest, most active, and most emotional group of supporters, feeding off their frustration while clawing to find some advantage.”

Miller fingers Dean as being “the worst offender” of this campaign tactic and notes, “it says a lot about the current Democratic base that he has emerged as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for president.

“He likes to say he belongs to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, but I say he belongs to the whining wing of the Democratic Party,” Miller writes.

As for the other presidential candidates, Miller says Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is “shooting brightly through the skies like Halley’s Comet”; describes Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) as “steadily and surely plodding along, one labored step at a time, like Aesop’s tortoise”; and calls Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) “the New Century’s Abraham Lincoln, 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,” Miller writes about the glossy Kerry article that appeared in March.

Miller does not devote the entire 237 pages of his book to criticizing members of his own party, and in fact has kind words to say about Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), among others.

He uses the book to explain the evolution of his own political positions from his days growing up in the North Georgia Mountains to his current belief that the national Democratic party only represents the viewpoints of Northeastern and California liberals.

“Once upon a time, the most successful Democratic leader of them all, FDR, looked south and said, ‘I see one third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,’” Miller writes of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “Today our national Democratic leaders look south and say, ‘I see one third of a nation and it can go to hell.’”

To help make his argument, Miller points to the fact that Democratic leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.), former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe were notably absent from the Southern campaign trail in 2002.

But Miller notes the participation of these Democratic leaders would not have helped any of the candidates, because he claims his party has staked out the wrong positions on issues such as national defense, capital punishment and others. Next year will be no different, Miller warns.

“In 2004, none of the leadership can come,” he writes. “When it comes to romancing the South, they bring their flowery bouquets wrapped in old, dried up carpetbag containers.”

And the Georgia Senator suggests Democrats have not yet embraced the idea that it needs re-evaluate itself and uses the selection of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to be the new House Minority Leader as an example.

“Little has changed, except that Nancy Pelosi has taken the place of Gephardt, which makes it even worse,” he writes.

As for Daschle, Miller writes that he likes him as a person, but he places some blame on the South Dakota Democrat for Sen. Max Cleland’s (D-Ga.) defeat in 2002. Miller contends that Cleland lost because Daschle refused to allow the Senate to approve legislation creating the Homeland Security Department before the elections.

While noting that the South Dakotan did not campaign for Cleland, Miller asserts his presence was still felt.

“Unfortunately, he did send his own personal albatross of partisan wrangling on homeland security just weeks before the election for Senator Max Cleland to wear around his neck like the ancient mariner in the Coleridge poem,” Miller writes.

After the election, Miller writes, he decided he would never attend another Democratic Caucus luncheon, and he has not.

Miller also criticizes the wealthy Washington lobbying industry, which he charges has an incredible amount of power. He recounts one Democratic strategy meeting where leaders asked Senators to attend a fundraising breakfast being hosted by a labor union, because each Senator meant an extra $20,000 in campaign contributions.

“All fifty of us answering ‘present’ could mean a million dollars for the party,” he writes. “Of course I attended.”

Washington’s money game quickly turned Miller off, and now he questions whether it is moral for a spouse of a Member to work as a lobbyist.

“Now I have nothing against spouses working — mine has held jobs most of our fifty years of marriage,” Miller writes. “But as a lobbyist? Seeking to influence legislation? Give me a break. Talk about ‘gathering ye rosebuds while ye may.’ It gives a new meaning to ‘pillow talk.’ I cast no aspersions on the ones who do this, nor do I doubt their honesty. But in a business where ‘perception’ is just about the same as ‘reality,’ it looks suspicious as hell. It looks like someone’s riding the gravy train. It does not pass the smell test.”

Miller also offers an evaluation of the Clinton presidency, and provides an interesting nugget about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.).

The future Senator was spending the night in the governor’s mansion the day the story broke about her husband’s tryst with Gennifer Flowers. Miller writes that he campaigned with Mrs. Clinton the next day and saw for the first time her resilience.

“I continue to have great respect for this strong woman, and even though over the years I’ve come to disagree with her on many, many issues, I cannot forget that day being in a foxhole with her and seeing up close the first evidence of Hillary the warrior.”

While Miller writes that he could have quietly retired when his term expires next year without voicing his concerns and opinions, his “conscience” wouldn’t let him.

“I just couldn’t help taking one more whack at trying to talk a little sense into the party I’ve been part of since birth,” he writes.

Miller could not be reached for comment, but he is expected to begin a book tour next month and that is when he will begin doing interviews, a spokeswoman said.