Nov. 2, 2003: Democrats’ Southern Strategy: Pickups and Possums

Zell Miller is mad as a wet hornet at Democrats. Our irascible senior senator has a new book out entitled “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat.” In it, he lambastes the national Democrats for ignoring the South. Miller says that “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.’ Today our national Democratic leaders look south and say, ‘I see one third of a nation and it can go to hell.’”

Miller believes the Democrats don’t understand the South and don’t particularly want to. He says the national party has basically written us off. They are too busy cozying up to Barbra Streisand and Martin Sheen and every liberal weenie special-interest group they can find instead of moving to the middle of the road where most of the South resides. That is a big mistake, but one the Democrats seem likely to repeat. Sen. Miller says that in 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern failed to carry a single state in the South. Neither did Walter Mondale in 1984, Michael Dukakis in 1988, or Al Gore in 2000. Gore couldn’t even carry his home state of Tennessee. Had he done so, the chads in Florida would still be hanging and the former vice president would be president today.

Democrats were quick to respond to Miller’s accusations. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said, “I love the South. I am from South Dakota, for God’s sakes. How much more Southern can you be than that? We think everybody in North Dakota talks too loud and acts like experts on everything.”

New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, a potential presidential candidate, said that evidently Miller has forgotten that although she was born and raised in Chicago, she had once lived in Arkansas, which is very much a part of the South. When asked where Arkansas is, Clinton stated that she wasn’t sure, but thought it was near Louisiana or Kentucky. It’s been a long time since she was there.

The Democratic presidential candidates also took issue with Miller’s comments. The current frontrunner, Dr. Strangelove — aka Howard Dean — said he wanted to appeal to “Southerners with their Confederate battle flags on their pickup trucks.” The Brotherhood of Angry Confederate Kinsmen Working Against Rotten Dirty Scalawags (BACKWARDS) released a statement praising Dean for his comments. According to Adjutant Grand Major General Stonewall Bedford, “This little critter from Canada, or wherever he’s from, has stood up for us and shows that he understands what we are all about in the South. He’ll dang sure get my vote.”

Adjutant Grand Major General Bedford was asked if that meant that BACKWARDS would support Dean’s position on same-sex marriages. “What in the name of Jeb Stuart are you talking about?” he asked. An aide whispered into his ear. “Good Lord!” the adjutant grand major general exclaimed. “I don’t think I’d have told that!”

Dean’s brilliant maneuver should put to rest once and for all the notion that Democrats ignore Southern voters. Now the other Democratic presidential candidates are expected to roll out their own Southern strategies. Word is that Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts will issue a statement later this week that he wants to appeal to all Southerners who live on dirt roads and are married to their first cousins, whether or not they have all their teeth. Al Sharpton is brushing up on his favorite redneck jokes, and Missouri Sen. Richard Gephardt is learning to play the banjo. Not to be outdone, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut says he will eat a live possum.

None of these gestures is likely to assuage Sen. Miller about the direction in which the Democratic Party is headed. After Dean made his appeal to Southern pickup-truck drivers, Miller told a television reporter that Howard Dean “knows about as much about the South as a hog knows about Sunday.” The Democratic leadership has called an emergency session to figure out what that means. Sen. Lieberman says he will have to miss the meeting. He is trying to find a picture of a possum.