Zell Miller and party membership

There are other threads on Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who apparently supports the Republican Party and not his own party. I don’t want to get intoa debate about whether he’s right or wrong, but I do have this question:

What does party membership mean in the United States, and how is Senator Zell Miller’s current political position consistent with membership of the Democratic Party?

In other countries (like Australia or Britain), a politiician so at odds with his party would either have resigned from it, or been thrown out of it. So how can Zell Miller remain a member? Why doesn’t he resign? Why don’t the Democrats throw him out?

Anyone who registers to vote, can check the option of “Democrat” and technically belong to the party. There exists no method for a political party to “throw anyone out” of the party.

The closest thing the Democrats could do would be to wait until Zell Miller is up for reelection (he is retiring, so this isn’t an issue) and vote him out during the Democratic Primary in favor of another candidate.

The Republicans tried to do this with Senator Arlen Specter (they called him a RINO, Republican In Name Only). Senator Specter barely survived in the primaries by a margin of 51% to 49%.

So Zell Miller would be a DINO – sounds strangely appropriate :slight_smile:

But don’t the Democratic senators caucus? And couldn’t the other senators throw him out of the caucus? (Though I did read somewhere that Senator Miller no longer attends caucus meetings, so that might be moot.)

They probably wouldn’t want to do that. The Democrats need every vote they can get in the Senate, even from an old cuss like Zell.

Besides which, all of these questions about races and caucuses only affect officeholders and candidates. Come next year, Zell Miller will be neither. He will still be, however, a Democrat. The party has no mechanism in place to kick him out.

If they did, they would have kicked Lyndon LaRouche out a long time ago. He’s a Democrat as well, and runs dutifully for the presidential nomination every four years. Nobody in his right mind, though, considers LaRouche a representative Democrat, though, and that’s the difference.

Zell Miller had solid credentials in this area. He was a hugely popular Democratic governor and senator, and delivered the keynote address at the Democratic convention twelve years ago. The anger being directed against him by other Democrats is a measure of how valued a member of their team he was.

The leaders of the party can, however, denounce a member, saying in effect: “He may call himself a Democrat, but as far as we are concerned, he’s no Democrat. We don’t want him and wouldn’t take him as a gift”.

This is called “reading him out of the party.” It has no legal force, and the denounced person is free to register as a Democrat, can continue to call himself a Democrat, but it puts the world on notice that as far as the party is concerned, this guy has gone so far around the bend that he can’t see the bend from there.

The Republicans more or less did this with David Duke.

Zell has voted with the Dems exactly once on any critical matter since January 20, 2001: to make Daschle Majority Leader in the Spring of 2001. I sincerely doubt that would happen again if, by some bizarre stroke of fate, there would be an opportunity for the Senate to change hands again before the election.

Daschle could kick Miller out of the Democratic party, as far as the Senate is concerned. He’d strip him of his committee assignments, move his desk from the Democratic side of the aisle and say, You’re out of the caucus!..that you haven’t attended in years. The House Democrats did the same thing to Jim Traficant after he voted for Hastert to be Speaker and when the criminal charges against him came to light.

But I doubt it’s going to happen. Nobody wants to rock any boats before the election.

Miller meant a lot of things to the Democratic Party in Georgia, but he never meant a damn thing to 90 percent of the Democrats across the country. As soon as he actually joined the national stage upon his appointment to the Senate, he was marginalized. I think Miller went to Washington thinking he’d be the next poster child for moderate Dems. When that didn’t happen, he became a bitter, bitter man. A true southern gentleman would know something about not stabbing his former friends in the back, and that’s why a lot of Dems are pissed off at him.

The issue here is that in the United States, a political party is not really an organization that has a membership, really. It’s not even a formal organization at all. You can’t be kicked out of the party, because you can never really be a member of a party. The voters who choose to vote in a party’s primary decide who will be the party’s nominee for a particular office. And in many local and state offices, the primary elections are combined into one, single “open” primary.

In essence, you’re a Democrat if you call yourself a Democrat. And if you managed to get elected on a Democratic ticket, you’re a member of that caucus.

Also, if you choose to switch parties, there’s not much anyone can do about it until it comes time for you to run for re-election. And then, your old party (or, actually, the finance and campaign organizations associated with your party, such as the Democratic National Commission) will withhold financial and organizational assistance from you, but there will be plenty of assistance from your new friends.

So why doesn’t he change his party affiliation and join the Republicans? Lots of people have changed parties. He does have a sentimental attachment to the democratic party, which might count for something I guess. But I image the main reason is publicity. If he became a Republican he’s just another partisan Republican. If he stays a Democrat, he’s the Democrat who is against his own party! Look at me everybody!

That reminds me a bit of a stunt Dan Savage pulled a few years ago. He decided to register as a Republican and see if he could get a few columns out of it. When he went to his Republican caucus meeting (in the Capitol Hill district in Seattle, a very liberal gay mecca), he was the only one there. So he became the caucus delegate to the Republican state convention, where he was able to cause all kinds of mischief.

I guess I’m surpised this doesn’t happen more often…people joining and/or continuing as members of political groups to undermine them from within.

Godzella, maybe?

I suspected from the little I heard of his speech that he had some personal beef with Kerry, more than love of W. Bush.