- The Washington Times - Friday, August 20, 2004

In 1992, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton wanted to present himself as a different kind of Democrat, a budget-balancer in touch with mainstream America’s concerns about welfare, crime and social issues.

So Mr. Clinton tapped Zell Miller, Georgia’s conservative Democratic governor at the time, as keynote speaker for the Democratic National Convention.

Eight years later, President Bush wants to portray Sen. John Kerry and the Democratic Party as liberals who are out touch with the concerns of mainstream America.

So Mr. Bush is calling on the same Zell Miller — now Georgia’s senior senator and still a conservative Democrat — to deliver the prime-time keynote speech to the Republican National Convention.

The ex-Marine from the foothills of Appalachia thus will become on Sept. 1 the first speaker ever to deliver keynote addresses to both major party conventions — and will do so in New York’s Madison Square Garden, the same venue where he spoke on Mr. Clinton’s behalf in 1992.

Mr. Miller’s support for Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign “is indicative of the broad support the Republican Party has earned under President Bush’s compassionate conservative leadership,” Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie said yesterday in announcing Mr. Miller’s convention role.

In the nearly three years since the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Miller has emerged as a staunch supporter of the Republican administration’s policies, and an outspoken critic of his party’s leadership.

After writing a book condemning the liberal drift of his party, Mr. Miller refused to attend this year’s Democratic convention in Boston, and has campaigned around the country on behalf of Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, excoriating Mr. Kerry and the Democrats as pawns of “liberal kingmakers” and “Hollywood elites.”

So the announcement of Mr. Miller’s keynote role did not exactly come as a shock to Republicans or Democrats.

“The choice of Zell is not surprising to me at all — in 2000 Bush talked about wanting to bring a new spirit of nonpartisanship to Washington,” said Republican activist Jennifer Blei Stockman.

“I think he genuinely likes Bush,” said Democratic strategist Victor Kamber, who added that fellow Democrats “deeply resent” what they view as Mr. Miller’s political apostasy.

“Zell doesn’t hurt the Democrats — he was a builder of the modern party and considered a progressive — but he does make the Republicans feel good,” Mr. Kamber said.

Other Democrats have much harsher words for Mr. Miller.

“Good riddance to Zell Miller, and if George Bush wants Benedict Arnold speaking at his convention, good for him,” said Brad Woodhouse, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman.

The broad theme over the convention’s four days will be what Mark Wallace, Bush-Cheney deputy campaign manager, described as Mr. Bush’s goal of “building a safer world and a more hopeful America.”

Mr. Miller will speak about what the Gillespie-Wallace announcement boasts of as “the land of opportunity created by President Bush’s pro-growth, pro-American worker, pro-American entrepreneur agenda.”

Mr. Miller’s Wednesday keynote address will be part of a four-day menu of prime-time speakers representing an ideological kaleidoscope. On Monday, the stars will be Arizona Sen. John McCain — Mr. Bush’s key rival in the 2000 primary campaign — and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, whose pro-choice position on abortion and support of homosexual rights are at odds with the president’s stances. Tuesday, the headliner will be California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a liberal on social issues whose wife, broadcaster Maria Shriver, is a Kennedy family member.

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