The Conservative Democrat
Oddly enough, Democrat Senator Zell Miller of Georgia was a keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Even odder is that despite the venue in which he gave his speech, he remains a member of the Democratic Party.
Senator Miller’s September 1st speech was largely lacking in substance. The only apparent reason he gave for supporting President Bush’s reelection was Bush’s position on defense spending, and the only apparent reason he gave for opposing Kerry, who “wants to be the leader of the free world” (and here I thought Kerry was running for President of the United States) was that Kerry “voted to weaken our military” and demanded we seek U.N. support for the war. (1)
Despite the lackluster content of Miller’s speech, over the next few days the Republican cheerleaders exploded in a firestorm of loud and vocal support for the Senator. Jerry Falwell said Miller “pulled no punches in identifying the absolute surrender of his party to leftist special-interest groups.” (2) Columnist Kyle Williams said, “[Miller] really pounded on Sen. Kerry, but he mixed his criticisms with thoughts about family, the future and hope.” (3) Larry Kudlow of the National Review called Miller a “conservative-leaning Democrat.” (4) An acquaintance of mine said of Miller’s rebuke of the Democratic Party (and I paraphrase), “FDR and Kennedy would be rolling in their graves if they knew how far off-course the Democratic Party has gone.”
I’m not sure if Miller successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the above Republicans, if they have no concept of what “conservatism” is, or if they’re simply stupid. Perhaps the answer is that a little bit of all three is true.
Miller is, admittedly, conservative for a Democrat. I believe he would fit right into what the Republican Party has become, but he is by no stretch of the imagination objectively conservative. His personal platform (or, at least, the unsavory bits) is as follows:
Senator Miller is pro-life, yet he supports life-destroying embryonic stem-cell research. (5) And merely two years ago, Miller voted yes on a bill that would include “sexual orientation” in a list of hate crimes the federal government is allowed to “help” the individual states prosecute (even if the crime committed was not a federal offense). Also, in 1996 Miller chaired the Platform Committee and so presided over the writing of the following language from the Democratic National Platform:
We support continued efforts, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to end discrimination against gay men and lesbians and further their full inclusion in the life of the nation. (6)
And while Miller is on record as opposing abortion, the fact is he still remains in the party whose current platform reads: “Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right.” (7)
Not only is Miller soft on the Second Amendment, but in a 1993 speech he said he supports banning “the possession of handguns by those under age 18, and [making] it a felony for anyone to furnish them with a handgun.” (8)
He supported the “Children’s Health Insurance Program” in Georgia which “could provide health coverage for as many as 228,000 Georgia children. He also voted to make up to $300 billion available for a Medicare prescription drug benefit for 2002 - 2011, and promised to use the national budget surplus to fund prescription drug plans for seniors.
In 2001, Miller spoke unfavorably of Bush’s “Freedom to Farm” subsidies bill, not because he objected to the $190 billion in subsidies the final bill gave farmers, but because it “failed to deliver.” (9) Although Miller’s meaning was not completely clear when he said that, one presumes what the bill failed to deliver was adequate subsidies.
Furthermore, the free trade supporting (and thus anti-American business) Miller voted in 2000 to give permanent “Normal Trade Relations” status to China. The same China, that is, which crushed students beneath tank tracks only 15 years ago, continues to force abortions upon Chinese women through its “One-Child” policy, and to this day imprisons Christians for practicing their faith and sends political and religious dissidents to reeducation camps.
Finally, in his RNC speech Miller asked, “What has happened to the party I’ve spent my life working in?” While Republicans have praised Miller for “recognizing,” as Falwell put it, that his party has surrendered to “leftist-leaning special interests,” a sensible person might question what Miller is talking about. For instance, Paul Begala, the speechwriter for Zell Miller’s 1992 address to the Democratic National Convention, says, “Zell was the Democratic keynote speaker in 1992. He was the Platform Committee Chairman in 1996. He co-chaired Al Gore’s leadership PAC in 2000. And now, all of a sudden, in 2004 he’s decided the party’s too liberal? What’s changed?” (10)
Miller supported Clinton, who has remained consistent in his anti-family and socialistic positions. Likewise, Miller supported (and, as Begala points out, chaired the leadership PAC for) Al Gore. Gore has remained pro-abortion, pro-sodomy, pro-free trade, pro-big government, anti-firearms, and pro-socialization of education and health care. With only the partial exception of the first two issues, Miller seems to still agree with all of Gore’s political positions.
So one would echo Begala in asking “what’s changed?” When all is considered, it seems that Miller’s “what happened to my party?” was nothing more than manipulative rhetoric designed to tickle the ears of GOP party members.
In the end, yes, Miller may be conservative for a Democrat, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still a dyed-in-the-wool socialist.
September 8, 2004
Pieter Friedrich lives in a small town in the California Sierra Foothills. He is an amateur political analyst, a writer, a classical liberal, a juris naturalist, a paleo-conservative, a strict constitutionalist, and, foremost, a Christian. He may be reached for comment here.