The Miller meltdown

Zell Miller, meet Pat Buchanan.

I’d been wondering whether, and when, the press was going to call out the relentless negativity of the Republican convention. Apparently Zell Miller’s speech was enough to do the job, at least for the CNN crew. He really shouldn’t have left his praise of Kerry from just three years ago — utterly inconsistent with tonight’s speech — up on his website.

Ezra Klein, guest-blogging on Kevin Drum’s Political Animal:

Bush’s advisors will not be sleeping well tonight. Going this negative on national television is always dicey, but tonight, they pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and, finally, fell backwards into backlash. Zell’s speech crossed the line and Cheney’s sneer sealed the impression. Tonight’s theme was “Fuck you, John Kerry”, and it’s going to end up fucking them.

After Cheney, Zell was up in CNN’s booth, and Blitzer, Greenfield and Woodruff brought out the knives, dismembering his various inconsistencies (noting that Zell praised Kerry a few years ago, bringing up the fact that Cheney voted against funding for the same weapons systems he criticized Kerry for opposing and reminding Zell that the president has called Iraq an “occupation” four times) and making him look like a bitter, rigid old man. Greenfield ended the interview wondering about backlash from the speech while Blitzer asked Zell why he was so unreasonably angry. Apparently Chris Matthews eviscerated Zell just minutes later. The media’s getting sick of these guys, and swing voters who tuned in tonight — the voters who don’t mind either candidate and just haven’t decided who to vote for — are going to find themselves turned off by the Republicans’ brutality.

And here’s Andrew Sullivan, who while anti-Bush has not been especially pro-Kerry:

Zell Miller’s address will, I think, go down as a critical moment in this campaign, and maybe in the history of the Republican party. I kept thinking of the contrast with the Democrats’ keynote speaker, Barack Obama, a post-racial, smiling, expansive young American, speaking about national unity and uplift. Then you see Zell Miller, his face rigid with anger, his eyes blazing with years of frustration as his Dixiecrat vision became slowly eclipsed among the Democrats. Remember who this man is: once a proud supporter of racial segregation, a man who lambasted LBJ for selling his soul to the negroes. 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.

THE “OCCUPATION” CANARD: Miller first framed his support for Bush as a defense of his own family. The notion that individuals deserve respect regardless of their family is not Miller’s core value. And the implication was that if the Democrats win in November, his own family would not be physically safe. How’s that for subtlety? Miller’s subsequent assertion was that any dissent from aspects of the war on terror is equivalent to treason. He accused all war critics of essentially attacking the very troops of the United States. He conflated the ranting of Michael Moore with the leaders of the Democrats. He said the following:

Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today’s Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator. And nothing makes this Marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators.

That macho invocation of the Marines was a classic: the kind of militarist swagger that this convention endorses and uses as a bludgeon against its opponents. But the term “occupation,” of course, need not mean the opposite of liberation. I have used the term myself and I deeply believe that coalition troops have indeed liberated Afghanistan and Iraq. By claiming that the Democrats were the enemies of the troops, traitors, quislings and wimps, Miller did exactly what he had the audacity to claim the Democrats were doing: making national security a partisan matter. I’m not easy to offend, but this speech was gob-smackingly vile.

OPPONENTS OR ENEMIES?: Here’s another slur:

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. But don’t waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my party today. In their warped way of thinking America is the problem, not the solution. They don’t believe there is any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy.

Yes, that describes some on the left, but it is a calumny against Democrats who voted for war in Afghanistan and Iraq and whose sincerity, as John McCain urged, should not be in question. I have never heard Kerry say that 9/11 was America’s fault; if I had, it would be inconceivable to consider supporting him. And so this was, in truth, another lie, another cheap, faux-patriotic smear. Miller has absolutely every right to lambaste John Kerry’s record on defense in the Senate. It’s ripe for criticism, and, for my part, I disagree with almost all of it (and as a pro-Reagan, pro-Contra, pro-SDI, pro-Gulf War conservative, I find Kerry’s record deeply troubling). But that doesn’t mean he’s a traitor or hates America’s troops or believes that the U.S. is responsible for global terror. And the attempt to say so is a despicable attempt to smear someone’s very patriotism.


“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. I want Bush to decide.”

Miller might have found some shred of ancient rhetoric that will give him cover on this, but in Kerry’s very acceptance speech, he declared the opposite conviction – that he would never seek permission to defend this country. Another lie:

“John Kerry wants to re-fight yesterday’s war.”

Kerry didn’t want to do that. Yes, he used his military service in the campaign – but it was his opponents who decided to dredge up the divisions of the Vietnam war in order to describe Kerry as a Commie-loving traitor who faked his own medals. What’s remarkable about the Republicans is their utter indifference to fairness in their own attacks. Smearing opponents as traitors to their country, as unfit to be commander-in-chief, as agents of foreign powers (France) is now fair game. Appealing to the crudest form of patriotism and the easiest smears is wrong when it is performed by the lying Michael Moore and it is wrong when it is spat out by Zell Miller. Last night was therefore a revealing night for me. I watched a Democrat at a GOP Convention convince me that I could never be a Republican. If they wheel out lying, angry old men like this as their keynote, I’ll take Obama. Any day.

I’m still staggered by the failure of the Purple Heart Band-Aids to attract more outrage, but I suppose I’ll take what I can get.

Update Mickey Kaus, for example — Mickey, whose contempt for Kerry knows no bounds — notes that “occupation” is what everyone, including United States officials, has been calling the Whatsit of Iraq. (As it was the what everyone called the comparable processes in Japan and Germany, for example.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

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