Friday, September 03, 2004

Zell wipes the lipstick off the pig

Despite the very low expectations the International community have of the Bush regime, Zell Miller’s bizarre, hate-filled rantings have staggered commentators the world over. His tirade was so stunningly offensive to Kerry, the Democrats, Europe, the UN and Iraq, his lies so transparent, that even the notoriously apathetic American media felt obliged to react.

After the speech his incoherent rage when CNN dared to question even a couple of his lies, and his embarrassingly crazy challenging of Chris Matthews to a duel have led some to ponder if he may be in the early stages of alzheimers. describes the events:

Maybe Zell Miller was just strung too tight following his wild-eyed attack on John Kerry Wednesday night. But following his prime-time convention address, he made the rounds on the cable TV circuit and stole the show -- and not in a good way. Miller's speech was so over-the-top (he essentially questioned Kerry's loyalty to America), it prompted mild-mannered talking head David Gergen to compare Miller to racist demagogue Lester Maddox, while Time's Joe Klein had to pick his jaw up off the ground before he could analyze it. But Miller's post-speech cable performance was even more jaw-dropping, as he first badly fumbled questions from CNN anchors, then lost it with "Hardball's" Chris Matthews, repeatedly challenging the MSNBC host to a duel and telling him to "shut up."

On CNN, he came under respectful but close questioning from Wolf Blitzer, Judy Woodruff and Jeff Greenfield, who pressed the wayward Democrat about why he mocked Kerry for using the phrase "occupiers" when describing U.S. troops in Iraq (Miller prefers "liberators"), when President Bush has himself used the same phrase for the same U.S. troops. Miller clearly had no idea that was the case and passed on giving a response. He was also asked why just three years ago he had introduced Kerry in Georgia as an American hero who had worked hard for our nation's security (the speech is still up on Miller's Web site). Miller suggested he was new to the Senate at the time and basically didn't know what he was talking about.

And about those weapons system votes that Miller criticized Kerry for making over a decade ago -- wasn't it true that while as secretary of defense Dick Cheney raised similar doubts about those very same systems? Miller said he'd let Cheney answer that himself. Finally, Blitzer asked Miller why he looked so angry during his speech, and couldn't that hurt the cause he was pushing? Miller, who in fact looked like he was suffering from flashback Atlanta road rage at the podium periodically, said he was sorry if he came across as angry because he didn't mean to.

But that was just the warm-up. Next it was over to Chris Matthews' "Hardball" on MSNBC where Miller, perhaps still bruised by his wobbly CNN showing, just plain lost it. Actually, Miller appeared from Madison Square Garden, while "Hardball's" set was over in Herald Square. And when Miller was announced he was greeted with a chorus of "boos" by the crowd of local Democrats assembled behind the "Hardball" taping area. Things went downhill for Miller from there.

Matthews asked Miller to defend his speech, and particularly his allegations that John Kerry voted "against" various defense appropriations. (As both Matthews and Miller know, voting against a large appropriations bill doesn't necessarily mean that you disapprove of every part of the bill). Miller got progressively angrier as Matthews persisted in holding him to his statement, telling Matthews several times that he wished he was in the studio so he could "get up in your face."

As Miller steamed, Matthews asked him if he thought that he was helping the political discourse in the country, and then, whether he even thought he was helping the Republicans by what he was saying. At that point Miller's meltdown peaked. He started waving his arms around, demanding Matthews "shut up" and let him answer the question. Miller then lapsed into a dialogue with himself wondering, "I don't know why I even came on this program," before returning to Matthews and announcing he wished they lived in a previous era because he would have "challenged you to a duel."

Thursday morning, Miller may deny he was serious when he said all of that, but the semi-deranged expression on his face at that moment suggested he'd truly lost control. Matthews, slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, laughed off Miller's left-field explosion, and invited him back tonight in person for a "more civil discussion." More important, Matthews insisted the show would get great ratings because everybody would be waiting to see if Miller was going to "beat me up."

For myself, I have never seen anything like this outside of secretly filmed excerpts of British National Party meetings or Hitler's rallies. but this is, of course an extremist fascist group too.

This obscene orgy of hatred contrasts very starkly indeed with the Democratic National Convention’s feel-good focus on hope, unity and the future.

The degree of Republican delusion and hatred of the global community is hideous to behold and frightening in its ramifications. Given that America represents 4% of the world population, these people represent at best, 2% and yet all of our destinies are threatened by their self-serving greed, hostility and willful ignorance.

Here are some reactions from around the web and the world.

Rupert Cornwell in The Independent:

…Today "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending." Such barbs are common currency, said with a smile and played for laughs. But Mr Miller - who still professes to be a Democrat, as he was when 12 years earlier he delivered the main speech for Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention in the same Madison Square Garden arena - was deadly serious. Not once did he smile. His address came across as a malevolent cocktail of bitterness, anger, and score-settling.

Referring to a recent speech by Mr Kerry, the 72-year-old Georgia senator declared that "nothing makes this old Marine madder than when he hears American troops described as 'occupiers,' rather than liberators." Hardboiled cable pundits were flabbergasted by the performance. One likened Mr Miller to Lester Maddox, Georgia's former racist demagogue governor. Joe Klein, Time magazine columnist, author of Primary Colors and a man rarely lost for words, was initially speechless when asked for his reaction.

The nearest comparison at recent conventions was the "religious war" tirade of the populist Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention, widely believed to have scared off independent voters and thus to have contributed to the defeat of George Bush Snr that year. But that was a generic assault against liberals. Mr Miller's was a vitriolic ad hominem attack. The question is, will his rabid assault have a similar effect?

Sidney Blumenthal in The Guardian

The belligerence of the Republican convention's keynote speaker was so overpowering it easily obscured the monochromatic performance of Dick Cheney. Senator Zell Miller of Georgia did not vary his grim expression or his shouting like a backwoods preacher casting out the devil…

…Miller's oration, extraordinary in its hostility was hardly pitched to win over undecided voters, mostly women. It reflected more than a Republican base strategy calculated for maximum partisan motivation. Miller's skewed history of the United States was intended to taint political debate itself as subversive. But it was Theodore Roosevelt who said: "To announce that...we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

John Shields for the BBC

Mr Kerry's respect for the United Nations was derided with loud boos, as was Senator Miller's claim that "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending".

Short of firing up the party base, the impact of Mr Miller's attacks is likely to be limited.
His political acrobatics have earned him the nickname Zig Zag Zell among Georgia Democrats.
The speech marks the finale of his political career. He is not seeking re-election to the Senate in November.

Both message and messenger compare poorly with the keynote address at the Democratic convention - an appeal for national unity from the party's rising young African-American star Barack Obama.

Jonathan Cohn in The New Republic

It was one of the most vile political speeches in recent American history, every bit as offensive as Pat Buchanan's infamous call in 1992 for "religious war" and, perhaps, a little more disturbing. Buchanan's speech, after all, was an assault on decency. Last night Miller declared war on democracy.

Matthew Yglesias

Watching that speech from inside the hall, I was genuinely afraid at one or two points. The audience was so enthused by his frankly fascistic remarks that at any moment I thought the distinguished Senator might point up and say "see, there, right there is one of these unpatriotic liberal journalists busy abusing the freedoms our soldiers fight to protect -- he must be destroyed for the safety of the Republican" and that Matt Welch and I would need to fend for our lives against the onrushing hordes.

Of course it didn't quite come to that, but I don't believe I've ever heard a more disgusting speech delivered in the English language. The fact that I couldn't see a single person on the floor who seemed to feel anything less than the utmost enthusiasm for that lunacy was, well, a bit disturbing.

Even the Bush administration are now trying to distance themselves from Miller’s tirade, despite the obvious irony of the fact that they read and approved it before hand. MSNBC reports

…The Bush campaign stepped backed from Miller’s comments Thursday after it was received with almost immediate criticism, including complaints from prominent Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona…

…Late Thursday, Miller and his wife were removed from the list of dignitaries who would be sitting in the first family’s box during the president’s acceptance speech later in the evening. Scott Stanzel, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said Miller was not in the box because the campaign had scheduled him to do too many television interviews.

There was no explanation, however, for why Miller would be giving multiple interviews during Bush’s acceptance speech, or what channels would snub the president in favor of Miller. Nor was it made clear why Miller’s wife also was not allowed to take her place in the president’s box 24 hours after his deeply personal denunciation of his own party’s nominee.

Despite republican attempts to ‘put lipstick on the pig’ by presenting a moderate façade at their conference Miller gave the game away by presenting the true, ugly face of the republican party. Reports of the audience’s rapturous reception confirm all suspicions that this sector of American society is not the least bit interested in being a democracy.

The concept of an America that represents freedom and equality may be gone forever, teetering on the brink of being replaced by a theocratic dictatorship that brooks no opposition or dissent.

Paul Krugman sums up these fears nicely:

...There was plenty of hatred in Manhattan, but it was inside, not outside, Madison Square Garden.

Barack Obama, who gave the Democratic keynote address, delivered a message of uplift and hope. Zell Miller, who gave the Republican keynote, declared that political opposition is treason: "Now, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief." And the crowd roared its approval.

Why are the Republicans so angry? One reason is that they have nothing positive to run on (during the first three days, Mr. Bush was mentioned far less often than John Kerry).
The promised economic boom hasn't materialized, Iraq is a bloody quagmire, and Osama bin Laden has gone from "dead or alive" to he-who-must-not-be-named.

Another reason, I'm sure, is a guilty conscience. At some level the people at that convention know that their designated hero is a man who never in his life took a risk or made a sacrifice for his country, and that they are impugning the patriotism of men who have.

That's why Band-Aids with Purple Hearts on them, mocking Mr. Kerry's war wounds and medals, have been such a hit with conventioneers, and why senior politicians are attracted to wild conspiracy theories about Mr. Soros.

It's also why Mr. Hastert, who knows how little the Bush administration has done to protect New York and help it rebuild, has accused the city of an "unseemly scramble" for cash after 9/11. Nothing makes you hate people as much as knowing in your heart that you are in the wrong and they are in the right.

But the vitriol also reflects the fact that many of the people at that convention, for all their flag-waving, hate America. They want a controlled, monolithic society; they fear and loathe our nation's freedom, diversity and complexity.

The convention opened with an invocation by Sheri Dew, a Mormon publisher and activist. Early rumors were that the invocation would be given by Jerry Falwell, who suggested just after 9/11 that the attack was God's punishment for the activities of the A.C.L.U. and People for the American Way, among others. But Ms. Dew is no more moderate: earlier this year she likened opposition to gay marriage to opposition to Hitler.

The party made sure to put social moderates like Rudy Giuliani in front of the cameras. But in private events, the story was different. For example, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas told Republicans that we are in a "culture war" and urged a reduction in the separation of church and state.

Mr. Bush, it's now clear, intends to run a campaign based on fear. And for me, at least, it's working: thinking about what these people will do if they solidify their grip on power makes me very, very afraid.

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