The Devil in Zell
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Zell Miller has hypocrite stamped all over his forehead. It's hard to imagine anyone more Janus-faced than the Democratic Senator from Georgia. In 1992, Miller nominated Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention. At a 2001 Jefferson- Jackson Day dinner in Georgia, Miller described John Kerry as "a good friend,""one of this nation's authentic heroes," and "one of this party's...greatest leaders."
But Miller's a cheap date. Earlier this year, the aptly dubbed "Zig Zag Zell" published "A National Party No More," a book blandishing blurbs from Sean Hannity, Robert Novak and Newt Gingrich, which characterizes the Democratic Party as a fringe organization. Employing one-liners in place of logic, Miller wrote, "If this is a national party, sushi is our national dish. If this is a national party, surfing has become our national pastime." The Washington Monthly called it "a rather dreadful [book]"; a "toxic combination of corny folkisms" and "over-the-top jeremiads against fellow Democrats."
Miller's ideology is simplistic, and hubristic. He recently argued in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the struggle for the modern Democratic Party has been won by "Hollywood sleazemaker" Michael Moore and other assorted "Bush-bashers." Miller complained that America Coming Together was hiring ex-felons to help with its get-out-the-vote campaign, and that Democrats were joining forces with criminals everywhere. In Miller's opinion, radicals dominate party ranks, and moderates have zero influence. (He apparently doesn't know that in his own backyard, Inez Tenenbaum – the Democratic candidate for South Carolina's Senate seat – is touting family values and supports the amendment banning gay marriage.)
When Miller delivers the keynote at the Republican convention Wednesday, he will bash his "good friend" Kerry and highlight his organization, Democrats for Bush. "Before it's all over, I think you're going to see a very impressive group of Democrats from around the nation supporting the Bush-Cheney team," Miller declared at a kick-off press conference in March. It's in large part a sham organization. According to the group's web site, the only other truly prominent Democrat in the group is former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The "Democrats for Bush" Steering Committee includes the not exactly household names Paul Berube (a pastor in New Hampshire), and Robert Allen Blankenship, (a retired sheriff in Arkansas.)
While the press lavishes attention on Miller, a more important story is being ignored; the Republicans who are deserting Bush in droves. US servicemen and women, senior diplomats, libertarians and social moderates are attacking Bush's foreign and domestic agendas:
- Numerous Republicans who served in high diplomatic and military positions under Reagan and Bush's father, for example, have formed Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change. As William Harrop, Ambassador to Israel under Bush's father, put it: I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." In the official statement, the group argues that the Bush Administration has weakened our security, and that it is time for a change."
- Nebraska Republican Congressman Doug Bereuter. Vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, this Midwestern conservative just two weeks ago told constituents that Bush's invasion of Iraq was "a mistake."
- Conservative commentators like Pat Buchanan have argued that, "if prudence is the mark of a conservative, Mr. Bush has ceased to be a conservative."
- Bush's lying about Iraq, argues Ron Reagan, in this month's Esquire, has alienated Reagan Republicans along with many moderates who served under Bush's father. (Bush is still waiting for the Log Cabin Republicans to endorse his campaign and the GOP's anti-gay rights, anti-abortion agenda.)
- The Republican animosity towards Bush is also powerfully expressed in MoveOn.org's Real People ads highlighting ordinary Republicans who are voting for Kerry.
Like the Democrats for Bush organization he leads, Miller is more a sideshow than a force to be reckoned with. (Or as Ben Jones, a former Georgia congressman, challenging Miller to a debate, summed it up: " I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs a exorcist." He has convinced few important Democrats, if any, to join his quixotic crusade. Miller will be feted at this week's convention, but the GOP will be pinning their hopes on an empty vessel.
Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation.