Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Zell's Angels

Zell Miller speaks for Robert Novak, among many others whom he speaks for. They're people who often still are Democrats on paper (DINOs?), and they're people who have heard Southern preaching, white or black, and recognize the art form in action. I can forgive Andrew Sullivan for missing the point entirely -- he's a Brit who never had the pleasure. But you don't have to be born in the scent of magnolias to get it: a brief acquaintance with the closing chapter of "The Sound and the Fury" will take you close to there.

But if you have an abhorrence of organized religion, and of all things Southern, and of tradition in America, you'll react the way nine-tenths of the media did to Zell's speech.

"Grumpy old man," is what they came up with. "Angry," "exaggerated" (wow, is that to miss the point of this literary genre), and then, as in Joe Klein, "filled with hate." No, Joe, it wasn't hate, it was disdain, and if you felt it coming down on you, look to where you stand and how you think. From where I sit, I think it fits you. I could be wrong about that — that's up to you to decide. But your reaction is giving you away, more than you imagine. And, you know, Zell began with his love for his family, and his love for his country, and his love for the Democratic party we all used to know, and his love for a bygone era of bipartisanship in times of danger and war. Zell's speech was all about love, disappointed love, and if you missed that you did not get the passion, didn't get it at all.

As Novak says, "George Bush is going to win a surprising share of Democratic votes this year. The firemen's and policemen's vote. The Nascar vote. The motorcycle vote. All of them, Zell's Angels." These are the people the Democrats wrote off as racist, ignorant rednecks. They don't want them in their new party of entertainers, unwilling-to-melt minorities, journalists and professors.

But these are the voters I'm warning you about: the ones who don't really care how you pronounce "nuclear," but are instinctively suspicious of anyone who does care too much about how someone else says it.

They are no more naturally Republican than Democrats. They are no more naturally racist than any other people competing for the scraps off the big table. The neglected history of the Southern populist party reveals their potential. But the modern Democrats seem to be more concerned about keeping some people out of their party than trying to understand their concerns, and pitch for their votes. Go ahead, write off every state of the old Confederacy. But try to win a presidential election without one.

Oh, Florida is the best chance for the Democrats. But up above Orlando, the state's just a southern suburb of Georgia. And the people who reacted to Zell Miller as if he were Stonewall Jackson's zombie come to haunt their living rooms are Democrats who only want to believe in the New South -- Connecticut with Spanish moss.