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Zell Miller: “It is the Soldier, Not the Poet, Who Has Given Us Freedom of Speech”

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Democratic Senator Zell Miller delivers the keynote address at the Republican convention, we take a look at who the Georgia senator is and why he broke ranks with his party to endorse George Bush. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush arrived in New York last night where he joined firefighters in Queens in a scene that was briefly beamed into the convention hall and to accept the endorsement of leaders of the city’s main firefighters union, the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

Across the river, Vice President Dick Cheney accepted his party’s nomination and Democratic Senator Zell Miller delivered the keynote address on the third day of the Republican convention.

The theme for the convention’s penultimate night was “Land of Opportunity,” but both headline speakers yesterday used their time to blast Democratic opponent John Kerry, depicting him as a weak and indecisive leader.

Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia abandoned his party earlier this year to give the Republican keynote address. Twelve years ago he delivered the Democratic keynote address in the same hall at the 1992 convention that nominated Bill Clinton.

Other speakers of the night included Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and Michael Reagan, the son of the late president, Ronald Reagan. The president”s other son, Ron Reagan spoke at the Democratic convention in Boston in July.

But it was Miller and Cheney who were the stars of the night. We begin with Zell Miller.

  • Zell Miller, speaking on at the Republican National Convention, September 2, 2004.
  • John Sugg, senior editor for Creative Loafing, an Atlanta-based alternative weekly newspaper.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Zell Miller, Democrat of Georgia, abandoned his party earlier this year to give the Republican keynote address. 12 years ago he delivered the Democratic keynote address in the same hall at the 1992 convention that nominated Bill Clinton. Other speakers of the night included Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Michael Reagan, son of late president Ronald Reagan. The president’s other son, Ron Reagan, spoke at the Democratic convention in Boston in July. But it was Senator Miller and Vice President Cheney who were the stars of the night. We begin with Zell Miller.

ZELL MILLER: Never in the history of the world has any soldier sacrificed more of the freedom and liberty of total strangers than the American soldier. And our soldiers don’t just see freedom abroad, they preserve it for us here at home. It has been said truthfully that it is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press. [cheers] It is the soldier, not the poet who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the agitator, who has given us the freedom to protest. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, serves beneath the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag, who gives that protester the freedom he abuses to burn that flag. [cheers] No one should dare to even think about being the commander in chief of this country if he doesn’t believe with all his heart that our soldiers are liberators abroad and defenders of freedom at home. [cheers] But don’t waste your breath telling that to the leaders of my party today. In their warped way of thinking, America is the problem, not the solution. They don’t believe there’s any real danger in the world except that which America brings upon itself through our clumsy and misguided foreign policy. It is not their patriotism, it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking. They claimed Carter’s pacifism would lead to peace; they were wrong. They claimed Reagan’s defense buildup would lead to war; they were wrong. And no pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. [cheers] Together, Kennedy and Kerry have opposed the very weapons systems that won the cold war and that are now winning the war on terror. Listing all the weapons systems that Senator Kerry tried his best to shut down sounds like an auctioneer selling off our national security. But Americans need to know the facts. The B-1 bomber that Senator Kerry opposed dropped 40% of the bombs in the first six months of Enduring Freedom. The B-2 bomber that Senator Kerry opposed delivered air strikes against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hussein’s command posts in Iraq. The F-14-A Tomcats that Senator Kerry opposed shot down Khadafi’s Libyan MIGs. The modernized F-14-D delivered missile strikes against Tora Bora. The Apache helicopter that Senator Kerry opposed took out those republican guard tanks in Kuwait in the Gulf War. The F-15 Eagles that Senator Kerry opposed flew cover over our nation’s capitol and this very city after 9/11. I could go on and on and on. Against the Patriot missile that shot down Saddam Hussein’s SCUD missiles over Israel. Against the air defense cruiser. Against the Strategic Defense Initiative. Against the Trident missiles. Against. Against. Against. This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of the US armed forces? [booing] US forces armed with what? Spit balls? [cheers] 20 years of votes can tell you much more about a man than 20 weeks of campaign rhetoric. Campaign talk tells people who you want them to think you are. How you vote tells people who you really are deep inside. [cheers] Senator Kerry has made it clear that he would use military force only if approved by the United Nations. [booing] Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide. [cheers] John Kerry, who says he doesn’t like outsourcing, wants to outsource our national security. That’s the most dangerous outsourcing of all. This politician wants to be leader of the free world. Free for how long? For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak, and more wobbly than any other national figure. [cheers] As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military. As a senator, he voted to weaken our military. And nothing shows that more sadly and more clearly than his vote this year to deny protective armor for our troops in harm’s way far away.

AMY GOODMAN: Georgia Senator Zell Miller endorsing President George Bush. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we will look at the life of Zell Miller, specifically why he changed his endorsement, why he has moved toward the Republican party, and then we will talk about Dick Cheney. Stay with us.

AMY GOODMAN: The Impressions, “People Get Ready” here on Democracy Now! Breaking with Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency. The Battle for New York. I’m Amy Goodman with Juan Gonzalez. Let’s talk briefly about Georgia senator Zell Miller who gave the keynote address last night at the Republican National Convention. John Sugg on the line with us from Georgia, Atlanta, senior editor of Creative Loafing the Atlanta-based alternative weekly. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOHN SUGG: Hi, nice to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Nice to talk to you again, John. Tell us who Senator Miller is.

JOHN SUGG: Well I think it’s important to realize where Zell got his start and why he earned the name “Zigzag.” His sort of politics began as chief of staff for Governor Lester Maddox, one of Georgia’s most famous racists and segregationists. That’s how Zell began his career. When it became–when it was expedient to be a racist and a segregationist, that’s what he was. A few years later when he saw the tide changing, he suddenly championed integration and throughout his career, you have had that same, you know, opportunistic shift for whatever worked. And that’s how he earned the name “Zigzag.” You listened to his speech last night. I just want to make one comment. The comment about demonstrators and the military, you know, I mean Zell should know better than what he said. The military’s a tool; it can be used for good or evil. We have seen the best and the worst, right? In Iraq as we saw over in Vietnam. The demonstrators–he totally admits the role of protests and defense. When he says what about the civil rights movement? You know, it wasn’t our military that won the civil rights movement. It was people on the streets. And a change in hearts and attitudes in America. So, you know, Zell joins a long list of treacherous people who have tried to capitalize on America that I guess begins with Benedict Arnold.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But doesn’t the Democratic Party in essence, by having these Democrats in its midst, in essence, create the possibility for these kinds of turns at critical juncture in American politics?

JOHN SUGG: Well I don’t defend the Democratic Party. I mean, you know, both parties, you know, have weird wings, you know, out there. The Republicans right now are trying to put forward this moderate face, with the people that they are bringing up on stage and everything. Yet, we know that the people at the controls of the Republican Party are, you know, the radicals, you know, beginning with, I was listening to Phyllis Schlafle last night, listening to the real kooky ones out there. They are the ones that are running things. But the Democrats made a devil’s alliance years ago when it included the dixiecrats in its umbrella and I guess you could say they are still paying the price for embracing southern racists by having — listening to Zell Miller last night. But Zell’s true character, who he was, he was interviewed on CNN after the speech. And, you know, Wolf Blitzer, they were trying to toss him softballs. And he was so unprepared to answer questions about the different weapons systems. Those are the same weapons systems that Dick Cheney opposed when he was Defense Secretary. And, you know, so Zell pulls the paper out of his jacket pocket and says “I have a list. I have a list!” And of course where have we heard that before? That sounds, you know, I thought he was channeling Joe McCarthy there for a moment.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, John Sugg, we want to thank you for being with us.

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