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No More National Party

My favorite authors have a tendency to be those who see the world just a bit cockeyed, folks who when presented with two hostile parties come up with a 'third way' that isn't just stealing one or another set of clothing. Chesterton, Bierce, Lewis, Swift--I'm partial to authors who are just a bit crazy.

(I've known people to quote Chesterton as being against tradition, without remembering the context of the phrase "Tradition is the democracy of the dead." People sometimes forget that he was not entirely unserious when he said:

"Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.")

By way of this, I've always been fond of Georgia's ex-governor Zell Miller. He's a bit of an oddball, one of the last of the Southern conservative Democrats who wouldn't defect, no matter what. And he's got that folksy homespun humor that is to the South what Chesterton is to England. I've been reading his A National Party No More, and while a lot of it is just aggressive justification of his past legislative successes, it's still an enjoyable read. Not on my top-ten list, but worth a look if you've got a chance:
There will be those who as, "What is this all about, The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat?" I can hear the liberal Washington crowd right now. Gold medalists in the Sneering Olympics, hissing, "In the first place, Miller's no Democrat." On the other hand, there are some die-hard Republicans back in Georgia who will break out their choicest cuss words and swear, "He's no conservative." And you can bet that some old drinking buddies from many years ago will slap their knees and hoot, "What conscience?"

A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat


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Zell Miller was the first person I thought of when I read the latest "This Modern World" cartoon. (See it at Salon or it should be posted soon on the Working for Change archives.) It seems to me that Miller insists he's still a Democrat simply because it makes a good story and sells more books. But whatever. Chesterton's comments on tradition are interesting, but in arguing for some deference to the dead as well as the living, he leaves out an even more important constituency (one that conservatives theoretically ought to care about more than any other, it seems to me): future generations. Of course, it's possible that considering the wishes of the dead will lead sort of inevitably to policy that is good for future generations because it might mean thinking long-term. Maybe.
Ask Zell Miller about the son he abandoned and then praise him about for being a "homespun" conservative.

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