September 2, 2004

ANDREW SULLIVAN is calling Zell Miller a “Dixiecrat.” Actually, given that the Dixiecrats were a movement that briefly took place within the Democratic Party back in 1948, when Miller was 16, that seems rather misplaced. And if Miller’s history is so bad, why did Bill Clinton choose him as his keynoter in 1992?

But I think the answer to this formulation appears as a question, when you search “Zell Miller Dixiecrat” on Google.

UPDATE: Some readers, who seem to think that I was being “coy” in my earlier discussion of Miller’s speech want to know what I thought about it. I was most struck — as I said in my post before, and as Virginia Postrel noted as well — by the unvarnished Jacksonianism of the speech. As Virginia says:

Zell Miller sure is pissed off at John Kerry–and at the entire post-Vietnam Democratic party. His speech was, as Glenn says, a pure expression of Jacksonian America, complete with unashamed accent (an accent that probably is like fingernails on a blackboard to lots of folks north of the Mason-Dixon line). . . . I’m guessing Miller’s been mad for a long time.

I suspect the style was a bit offputting to some people who aren’t familiar with (old-fashioned) southern politics, since you normally only see someone speak that way in the movies if he’s an Elmer Gantry style bad guy. In fact, it’s not that way: Many of the old-line Democratic heroes in Tennessee (none of whom were “Dixiecrats”) spoke that way. I’m too young to have seem anything but the tail end of that generation of politician: people like Ned Ray McWherter, Doug Henry, and John Jay Hooker. But they — especially John Jay — could give that kind of a stem-winder too, and it’s only bigotry or ignorance that associates that sort of speaking style with racism and nothing else. This was probably the last speech in that style we’ll ever see on the national political scene.

On the merits: It was hard-hitting. There’s a legitimate question (which Chris Matthews might have succeeded in raising if he had been less ham-handed and insulting) about how much you can tell from legislative votes, which often as not are structured to allow people to conceal or misrepresent their true leanings, and which are thus easily misrepresented by opponents. On the other hand, we’re told that people aren’t supposed to criticize Kerry’s Vietnam or post-Vietnam antiwar actions because doing that is a “smear,” so if you can’t talk about his Senate votes either, what’s left? His time as Lieutenant Governor? Kerry’s defenders seem a bit quick to call any kind of criticism unfair.

The upside of being a Senator running for President is that you get easy access to the national media, and to national money. The downside is that you have to explain your votes. You have to take the bitter with the sweet, and Kerry’s already taken the sweet. This was pretty bitter, but it’s part of the deal.

How well did it work for the Republicans? Beats me, but this may be an indication. And Luntz’s swing-voter focus group liked it more than I expected last night, because it did seem a bit harsh to me. (But I’m often wrong about these things). There are a lot of Jacksonians out there. Best line, from the item linked above:

Emerging theme of the Democratic response to the Republican convention speeches:

Schwarzenegger is not a Republican
McCain is not a Republican
Zell Miller is not a Democrat

Heh. I’m not particularly a fan of Jackson (partly because of my Cherokee ancestry, but more because of, well, who he was). But, you know, the Democrats are supposed to be the party of Jackson. Zell Miller delivered that, but what he really seems upset about is the absence of Wendell Willkies.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Read James Lileks’ take, too. There are a lot of Jacksonians out there, even in Minnesota.

MORE: A reader asks for an explanation of “Jacksonian.” Guess I shouldn’t have taken that for granted. Here’s an interview with Walter Russell Mead, who coined the term as part of an explanation of four traditions of American foreign policy. Short summary: “[The idea is]: “Don’t bother with people abroad, unless they bother you. But if they attack you, then do everything you can. . . . When somebody attacks the hive, you come swarming out of the hive and you sting them to death. And Jacksonians, when it comes to war, don’t believe in limited wars. They don’t believe, particularly, in the laws of war. War is about fighting, killing, and winning with as few casualties as possible on your side. But you don’t worry about casualties on the other side. That’s their problem. They shouldn’t have started the war if they didn’t want casualties.”

A much more sophisticated discussion can be found in Mead’s book, Special Providence. It’s also worth looking at David Hackett Fischer’s book Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America — which meshes rather interestingly with the 4 styles of foreign relations that Mead identifies.

STILL MORE: Dead Parrots has the Kerry response. No word on whether he voted for this stuff before he voted against it, but presumably that will all come out.

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