First off, as a journalist, let me take the time to do what no other pundit has been willing to do: to thank Georgia Sen. Zell Miller for being named Zell. It's been a long time since a politician occasioned such euphoria over euphony in political commentary. From the conservatives I've already heard "Give 'em Zell!" "Zell it like it is!" "Zelling it Old School!" From the other side of the aisle we've had "Zellotry" and "Zell-out." And who the Zell knows what else is coming down the pike - Zello-Dolly?
So thank you, Sen. Miller (or your parents), because on this teeny-tiny point you, sir, are a uniter not a divider. And had you been christened Cleophus, the partisan divide would be just that much wider today.
Of course, Zell did some serious widening himself. His speech here Wednesday night was straight out of the Atkins diet cookbook: all red meat. As political theater, most observers here found the speech marvelous. Where they differ is on the question of whether or not it was smart.
The instant reaction from liberal and anti-Bush journalists, as well as the DNC, was that Miller was as bad as or worse than Pat Buchanan. DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe noted that at least Buchanan smiled in 1992 when he gave his (now somewhat undeservedly) infamous speech at that year's convention.
Matthew Yglesias of the American Prospect, dripping with nuance, denounced the speech as a "fascistic tirade." The New Republic openly compared Miller to Joe McCarthy. Jonathan Cohn explained that Miller was much worse than Buchanan because "Buchanan's speech, after all, was an assault on decency. Last night Miller declared war on democracy." Time magazine's Joe Klein declared on CNN, "I don't think I've seen anything as angry or as ugly as Miller's speech."
Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor at the New Republic and a highly regarded blogger, noted the contrast between the Dem's Boston keynoter, Barack Obama - "a post-racial, smiling, expansive young American" - and the Republicans. "Then you see Zell Miller," Sullivan continued, "his face rigid with anger, his eyes blazing with years of frustration as his Dixiecrat vision became slowly eclipsed among the Democrats. Remember who this man is: once a proud supporter of racial segregation, a man who lambasted LBJ for selling his soul to the negroes."