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September 02, 2004

The Modern Dixiecrat Closes The Sale

This started off as a comment to Woundwort's post below. As tends to happen with me, what was initially a comment turned into an essay.

As the speaker lineup for the first four days of the convention has shown, George Bush has pretty much solidified his primary base of support, so now the Republican Party is trying to wrap up its secondary base of support, the Reagan Democrats, a group whose support has been critical in the last few national elections. A large chunk of Reagan Democrats is found in the South. Who better to woo them than a Southern Democratic senator?

Zell's speech was aimed squarely at moderate and conservative Southern Democrats, many of whom can be described as "uncomfortable," at the very least, with the current Democratic party and its Northern, okay, Yankee, nominee. As such, I think he hit the target early and often. Take a look at the themes in his speech.

Family--closest of all to the Southern heart, the constant star of the Southern mythos. He opened and closed his speech with references to it: Since I last stood in this spot, a whole new generation of the Miller Family has been born: Four great grandchildren.

Along with all the other members of our close-knit family, they are my and Shirley's most precious possessions.

And I know that's how you feel about your family also. Like you, I think of their future, the promises and the perils they will face.
The man I trust to protect my most precious possession: my family.

This election will change forever the course of history, and that's not any history. It's our family's history.

Sacrifice in service of a greater cause In 1940, Wendell Wilkie was the Republican nominee.

And there is no better example of someone repealing their "private plans" than this good man. He gave Roosevelt the critical support he needed for a peacetime draft, an unpopular idea at the time.

And he made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue.

Shortly before Wilkie died, he told a friend, that if he could write his own epitaph and had to choose between "here lies a president" or "here lies one who contributed to saving freedom," he would prefer the latter.

Support For the Military, always highest in the South: Now, while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrat's manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief.
And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators.
It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest.

It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom to abuse and burn that flag.

No one should dare to even think about being the Commander in Chief of this country if he doesn't believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home.

Nostalgia for the "Good Democrats" and their ideals, from the days of the Solid South: President Roosevelt, in his speech that summer, told America "all private plans, all private lives, have been in a sense repealed by an overriding public danger."
It was Democratic President Harry Truman who pushed the Red Army out of Iran, who came to the aid of Greece when Communists threatened to overthrow it, who stared down the Soviet blockade of West Berlin by flying in supplies and saving the city.

Xenophobia: Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations.

Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending.
John Kerry, who says he doesn't like outsourcing, wants to outsource our national security.

Religion, with some more of the Family theme thrown in for spice: I am moved by the respect he shows the first lady, his unabashed love for his parents and his daughters, and the fact that he is unashamed of his belief that God is not indifferent to America.

I can identify with someone who has lived that line in "Amazing Grace," "Was blind, but now I see," and I like the fact that he's the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning.

From what I've seen, Zell's speech played well with the Reagan Democrat crowd, and totally pissed off urban liberals--who weren't going to vote for Bush anyway. They think what they saw up at the podium last night was a reincarnation of the 1992 Patrick Buchanan, when in actuality the man who Zell was channeling was the 1982 George Wallace, one of the few southern politicians to ever manage the neat trick of creating a soft spot for himself in the hearts of both blacks and whites.

Andrew Sullivan notes the George Wallace style as well, but his interpretation founders on his lack of familiarity with the parts of the country that lie below the Mason-Dixon Line.

His speech tonight was in this vein, a classic Dixiecrat speech, jammed with bald lies, straw men, and hateful rhetoric. As an immigrant to this country and as someone who has been to many Southern states and enjoyed astonishing hospitality and warmth and sophistication, I long dismissed some of the Northern stereotypes about the South. But Miller did his best to revive them. The man's speech was not merely crude; it added whole universes to the word crude.

What we have here is a failure to communicate--a purposeful one. Miller was no more speaking to Andrew Sullivan than he was to E.T. Nor was he speaking to Atrios (crazy bitter bullshit) , Kos (scare night), or anyone at the DU, all of whom had the expected reaction to his speech. He was speaking to the NASCAR Dads and their spouses--a group that abandons the Democrats in droves whenever a man named Clinton doesn't run, because the Democrats no longer speak their language. Zell Miller, who like most of the Southern Reagan Democrats is a post-racial modern Dixiecrat rather than a "classic*" one, does, and he closed the deal with them last night. A little spiel, some fervent emotion on the subjects of family, religion and betrayal and that was that. Barring perhaps Florida and a calamity between now and November, Zell Miller has locked up the South for Bush.

*A "classic Dixiecrat speech" would have made a lot more mention of race, all of it negative, than did Zell's, which didn't touch on that subject at all.

Postscript: Michael Barone detected a different dead politician in last night's Miller speech. (lvi)

Posted by Bigwig at September 2, 2004 10:47 AM | TrackBack
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I don't understand how Woundwart didn't get it. I grew up in NYC and I got it.

To the best of my knowledge, that speech played pretty well with anyone holding traditional values, Democrat or Republican, North or South (though I agree it will most affect Southern Reagan Democrats).

Hell, Ed Koch seems to get it.

Posted by: Greg at September 2, 2004 07:32 PM

I don't know about Andrew Sullivan. He usually comes across as very bright, but sometimes it's just so obvious that he doesn't understand what it means to be American at all.

He seems pretty much at home with the Euro-wannabe Northeastern intellectual crowd (up to a point, where he differs from that crowd is where I like him) but he seems to consider the rest of America to be some kind of subhumans.

Posted by: Greg at September 2, 2004 07:38 PM
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