Monday, August 02, 2004

The Manchurian Democrat

Zell Miller, the retiring Georgia Senator, spoke at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. But no more. Now, he plans to speak at the 2004 Republican National Convention -- following on the heels of a pro-Bush voting record since 9/11.

He has said nice things about Senator John Kerry in the past. But no more. Now, like some sort of zombie, Miller has adopted Republican spin points by the dozens. It's as if Karl Rove or Ed Gillespie re-wired Miller's brain with all the GOP half-truths and distortions that have become grist for this election season.

Yesterday, on NBC's "Meet the Press," Miller recited spin points with such frequency you would have thought he was a guest on some bizarro version of "Beat the Clock." And Tim Russert was more than happy to play the part of docile host, an unsettling trend in itself.

You have to question why Russert has interviewed Miller so often over the past three years. Certainly, Miller is far from the mainstream Democrat. Is Miller's presence merely to show that people leave their parties? Fine. But where's Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Senator who left the Republican party?

Here are snippets from the transcript. Following the bouncing ball as Miller recites GOP spin points -- truth be damned:

MILLER: I mean, on the issue of defense, here is Senator Kerry, who voted to send troops to Iraq and then turned around and voted against financing the equipment and the ammunition and the benefits for the dependents that these troops needed.

-- This is a half-truth. Kerry voted for one of two versions of the spending bill. President Bush supported the other version, which provided money for Iraq in the form of grants, rather than loans, a decision that increases the size of the deficit. Bush threatened to veto the bill Kerry wanted passed, which had the money for Iraq coming in the form of loans, and would have separated out just the money to be spent on equipment and ammunition ($67 billion) from the bill's other spending plans. So, in truth, Kerry wanted to support the troops, but did not want to hike up the deficit to do so.

MILLER: This is a man that voted against the weapons system that we're using to fight the war on terror. This is a man who voted against increases in intelligence funding. He wanted to cut intelligence funding.
RUSSERT: But on defense and intelligence authorization bills, you have the same voting record as John Kerry.
MILLER: I didn't try to cut--now ultimately he came along and voted for some, but I sure didn't try to cut this defense budget.

-- This is the one time Russert actually points out the obvious, that Kerry and Miller, as fiscally conservative Democrats, had nearly identical voting records in the late 80s/early 90s. Why? Because the Cold War was won, and following the advice of Bush I's Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, there was bipartisan support for scrapping weapons systems that were deemed out of date and unnecessary spending.

Miller the Democrat stood with Kerry. Miller the Manchurian Democrat uses the same votes as the basis of an attack.

MILLER: I'm not angry. I'm just disillusioned. I'm disillusioned with a party that has gone completely so far to the left that in the South we don't even have a chance of electing Democrats statewide anymore because they are associated with the National Democratic Party, they're associated with the Kerry-Edwards-Daschle wing of the Democratic Party.

-- This is ridiculous. John Edwards is a retiring Democratic Senator from North Carolina, and there's a better-than-even chance that he will be replaced by a fellow Democrat, Erskine Bowles. Louisiana re-elected Democrat Mary Landrieu to the Senate last year, giving that state two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor. A Democrat, Inez Tannenbaum, should be competitive in her bid to win a Senate seat in South Carolina. Democrats have more than held their own in Florida. ... The only state where the Democrats are sure to lose this fall is Georgia, where a Republican is likely to replace the retiring Miller.

RUSSERT: John Edwards is from North Carolina, Southern senator.
MILLER: Oh, he's got a good ZIP code and he's got a good accent and he's got a good smile. But he has voted very similar to the way that John Kerry has voted.

-- The GOP has been spinning Kerry and Edwards as the "#1 and #4 most liberal Senators," but over their careers, Kerry is #11 and Edwards is #24. The GOP doesn't want to argue with facts -- even though they could still reasonably argue that Kerry is among the more liberal Senators -- because to do so would force them to admit Edwards is a moderate Democrat. (Further, Edwards in three of his first five years in the Senate was ranked among the most conservative Democrats.)

MILLER: You know, they talked about diversity at the Democratic convention. There was no diversity in ideology whatsoever. Can you remember when they wouldn't even let Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, governor of Pennsylvania-- wouldn't even let him speak at the convention in '92? They have completely pushed out any moderate to conservative Democrat.

-- This is a myth. Casey wasn't allowed to speak in 1992, according to numerous sources, because he wouldn't endorse Clinton-Gore. Several pro-life Democrats have spoken in subsequent conventions, such as ... Zell Miller of Georgia! Moderate and conservative Democrats have spoken, too, including Sen. Joseph Lieberman, at the 2000 and 2004 convention.


Russert claimed in his recent autobiography, "Big Russ & Me," to be well-prepared for every interview. That leaves viewers with two choices: either Russert does not prepare well, or he is so enamored with GOP spin as to remain docile when he hears it.

Either way, Russert has shown time and time again that he is a Republican spinmeister's favorite type of journalist -- one who has a reputation as a "bulldog," but who doesn't deliver when talking with the conservative half of the political spectrum.



Blogger centrist69 said...

Interesting commentary but in the end does it matter? Or should it? Why is so much energy spent on tearing down one party or another? Maybe, and this may be a wild idea given our current state of blindness in politics, someone would want to vote for Kerry if we understood:
1) Position on Iraq: other than the simplistic I will make friends with everyone in the world, have them over for dinner etc....---what would Kerry do differently than Bush once in office on iraq. Specifics.
2) Position on Israel-Palestinian conflict: why did he not mention it in the convention speech. what are his differences, if any, from Bush. Specifics.
3) Changing the international tax laws in order to compel or induce companies not to outsource jobs: needs to explain how, once you do this, you stem the increase in prices that will surely happen when we no longer are globally competitive when it comes business. American prodicuts will cost more to make due to larger salaries and will not be competitive against imports. Tough issue: global trade or isolationist. Again, its all in the specifics.
4) pre-emptive war question: specifically, how does he view the terrorist threat and how to deal with countries that fund or support them. Where is role of UN?
5) Saudi Arabia: how do you deal with them. Forget the spin of alternative fuel (which we should look into but will not be available in our lifetimes)...what do we do now.
6) Signature achievements of his 20 years in the senate needs to be defined by Kerry, not Bush, and talked about frequently. Being a war hero is not enough.

Kerry needs to answer these questions very clearly and hammer them home. That added to the social issues where he is different than Bush( abortion, stem cell etc.)---makes a viable candidate. Bill Clinton, thus far, is the only one I have seen make a coherent argument about the issues. If Kerry wins this election simply because he isnt Bush, that is a pathetic statement about the American public.

I say this as a person who is centrist (hence the name) and has leaned democrat in the last few presidential elections. I also say this as someone who is disgusted with the democratic party recently and the way it has embraced Bush-hating as its primary platform position and has not moved to negate people like Michael Moore, who has now become somewhat synonymous with the democratic stance in this election. Disgusts me. and, the terrorists must be having a ball watching all of this.

5:00 PM  
Blogger David R. Mark said...

Interesting commentary but in the end does it matter? Or should it? Why is so much energy spent on tearing down one party or another? >>

The whole point of the web site is to fight Republican spin.

So, if Zell Miller (or any Republican) goes on Meet the Press and asks legitimate questions about John Kerry, fine. You raise some valuable points, some of which I believe Kerry has addressed, but perhaps not as clearly as he should.

But the GOP (and those who support it, such as Miller) aren't interested in thought-provoking questions. They are interested in repeating their spin lines, most of which are half-truths, distortions or outright lies.

And people who listen to this drivel, whether it's on Meet the Press, Fox News Channel or your local conservative talk radio station, make important decisions -- such as voting for president -- based on these half-truths, distortions or outright lies.

I think of these politicians and pundits as "coward conservatives," because they aren't really defending conservativism as they are trashing what they see as liberalism. Maybe they don't trust the voters with the truth. I don't know.

The point of "The Manchurian Democrat" is to say:

a) Miller is a liar
b) Russert either doesn't realize it, or doesn't care

It's sad when a respected journalist such as Russert --who is supposed to remain objective, to question accusations that are laced with spin -- becomes a docile listener. It's a disservice to the viewers, as much so as anything that Miller said.


5:41 PM  

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