Sen. Zell Miller doesn’t have many bridges to today’s Democratic Party left to burn.
Whatever bridges remain are crumbling as the party’s national leaders — specifically, its nine candidates for president — read the Georgia Democrat’s blunt and often-scathing new book, “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.”
“They have managed to take the main plank of the McGovern race, antiwar, and the main plank in the Mondale race, raising taxes, and put them together,” Mr. Miller said in an exclusive interview with The Washington Times to mark the book’s release tomorrow. “How dumb can you get?”
Mr. Miller revealed in the interview that he will buck his party and its leftward lurch next year by casting his ballot for President Bush, which would be the first time a Republican ever won his vote for president.
None of the Democrats in the running appeals to Mr. Miller, governor of Georgia for eight years and lieutenant governor for 16. And he doesn’t think they can win the trust of the kind of Southern Democratic voters he grew up with in and around the Depression-era mountain town of Young Harris, Ga., where he was “born a Democrat” and reared by his mother, a penniless artist and future mayor, after his father died when he was 17 days old.
In the interview, as in his book, the senator reserved particularly harsh words for apparent front-runner Howard Dean.
“Howard Dean needs to take a little anger-management course,” Mr. Miller said of the former Vermont governor. “But he also needs to take a crash course on the history of freedom. I don’t think he has a clue where it came from.
“If he had been living that night in April of 1775, when Paul Revere came riding by shouting ‘The British are coming, the British are coming,’ Howard Dean would have yelled out his window, ‘Shut up, I’m trying to get some sleep.’”
Mr. Miller was appointed to the Senate seat left open when Republican Paul Coverdell died in July 2000. He won an election that November to serve out the rest of Mr. Coverdell’s term, which ends next year.
A 71-year-old former Marine, Mr. Miller is the sort who keeps his powder dry until he’s ready to shoot. One reporter recalls watching as another reporter asked Mr. Miller a question during his first days in the Senate. He politely declined: He didn’t want to talk to the press until he had been around for a while and understood the place.
Mr. Miller’s book is not the typical Washington tell-all. It doesn’t recount many closed-door conversations or detail Republicans’ overtures to him to switch parties. It is part autobiography, part lecture and part guide to how his beloved party can regain its national footing, peppered throughout with homespun witticisms. (“At my age, I don’t even buy green bananas,” he said in the interview.)
The 2002 elections persuaded him to write the book, Mr. Miller said, after voters judged “this dumb choice by the Democratic leadership of putting collective bargaining ahead of homeland security” and Democrats lost control of the Senate.
“I came up here expecting to be pretty much a traditional Democrat,” he said. “But the traditional roots of the Democratic Party are not raising taxes, class warfare, extreme partisanship.”
Mr. Miller sat for the interview in his office last Tuesday, when almost every other Senate Democrat was in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Room, just off the Senate floor, for the weekly lunch at which they hash out caucus positions.