Just as one of the largest hurricanes in recorded history threatened the coasts of Florida and Georgia, Democrat-turned-Jeremiah, Zell Miller, stepped up to the podium at the Republican convention. With his home state facing a state of emergency from the monster storm approaching the U.S., Senator Miller unleashed his own political hurricane.
It is now de rigeur as a commentator to be dismissive of modern political campaigns: “they are all staged, no news, no content, all spin . . .” Well, Miller certainly put the lie to that view of things. As a card-carrying Democrat, one who knifed Bush the Elder twelve years ago in the Clinton fray, frankly, he has unimpeachable “street cred.”
Carrying the water for the Democrats, as per usual, Peter Jennings tried to undermine Miller by dismissing him as a retiring politician as though that made what he had to say of less significance. (One wonders how that is supposed to play with the AARP.) Some would tend to think that the fact of his retirement would lend greater credibility to his passion, not less. Regardless of what anyone thinks of what he had to say, it was clear from the way he talked over the audience’s applause-and he had them in a frenzy-that he wasn’t there with the aim of getting a standing ovation, he was deadly intent on delivering his message.
Anyone of a certain age (which, not to mention, surely includes Jennings himself), or who simply has a mature understanding of human nature, watching the tightly constrained fury on Miller’s face, had to have recognized that retirement was not what had unleashed the Senator’s passion. At 72 years of age, it is no longer a question of career for Zell. He now confronts his own mortality. The question now is legacy. Regardless of party considerations, anyone who does not understand this distinction doesn’t have a clear view of life.
Miller grabbed the audience by the collar with the first words out of his mouth. He spoke with deep fervor about his great-grandchildren. Then he asked in the most serious tone he could muster (and that’s pretty serious when you are an ex-Marine Sergeant), “which leader is it today that has the vision, the willpower and, yes, the backbone to best protect my family?”
His stern response electrified the audience of Republican delegates; “The clear answer to that question has placed me in this hall with you tonight. For my family is more important than my party. There is but one man to whom I am willing to entrust their future and that man’s name is George Bush.”
While the assembled delegates were thrilled by Zell’s combative jeremiad, some Republicans are apprehensively watching the media coverage, fearing they might try to make it play like Howard Dean’s scream. Some are arguing that it was simply “too hot.”
But then, in politics, it is well to remember that some like it hot.
On the other hand, even within my own politics-obsessed family, I know of some members, while I have been here at the convention, who preferred “Fear Factor” over convention coverage, subscribing to the convention-as-charade viewpoint.
And then comes Zell. Full of righteous fury-ABC political commentators Mark Helprin and Co. argue that it won’t be long before the media puts two horns over his head. But he struck me more as an avenging angel. Love him or hate him, Democrat or Republican, inarguably he drew up sharp political battle lines for folks.
Facing the first Presidential election since we have been at war (following the first foreign attack on the American mainland since the British in the War of 1812) the question of leadership in 2004 is deadly serious. Flawed though it may be, the political arena is the only avenue we have for making this weighty decision.
Among the many criticisms leveled at former President Clinton, one of the most damning was that he was not a serious man. Wednesday night, Zell Miller reminded us that sober times call for serious leaders.
Invoking the memory of Wendell Wilkie’s unpopular support of the draft in the run-up to World War II, which effectively doomed his Presidential hopes as the Republican nominee running against FDR in 1940, Miller cried, “Where are such statesmen today? Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most?”
With his bold, brave and bravura speech-yet another speech for the history books-Hurricane Zell, a Jeremiah for our times, answered his own question.