Jonah Goldberg

This last bit is amusing, since Zell Miller was once considered a Southern statesmen by liberals because as governor he was willing to take the politically courageous step of removing the Confederate Battle Flag from the Georgia state flag. Indeed, Sullivan's magazine dubbed Miller "as reasonable a Democrat as there is." And Miller's stemwinder of a speech at the Democratic Convention in 1992 - in which he grilled the first President Bush ("If the 'education President' gets another term, even our kids won't be able to spell potato") - didn't provoke any assaults on his humanity.

In other words, when Democrats are mean or harsh they are labeled as passionate populists or some such. When Republicans are, they get called things like "Cotton Mather behind the cross" (Maureen Dowd's words). What is "righteous anger" for Democrats becomes "hate" when offered by Republicans (or, in this case, by like-minded Democrats.)

Now, none of this is to say that Miller's speech wasn't stern stuff. But was it really, in Sullivan's words, "gob-smackingly vile"? (Translation for the un-British: very vile). This charge rests on the assertion that Miller was questioning the patriotism of Kerry and the Democratic leadership (not rank-and-file Democrats, as so many commentators seem to think), despite such qualifiers as: "It is not their patriotism - it is their judgment that has been so sorely lacking."

Both strategically and substantively, I think the speech probably crossed the line in parts. Substantively, it clearly painted with too broad a brush, at times suggesting Kerry & Co. are more than merely wrong but are actually hostile to America. And, strategically, I think the style went a bit too far. If there had been a bit less Southern wrath and a bit more Southern charm it might have been even more effective.

However, in part because Kerry's left his record undefended, Miller's speech was effective (and not that much more negative than, say, Al Sharpton's in Boston). The focus group "real Americans" I saw on TV were impressed, and I bet lots of other Americans were too. The question is whether that impression will be revised in the next few weeks as the Democrats and the media try to spin this as a disaster.

Indeed, the Republicans took a big gamble when they decided to give 'em Zell at this convention. If a Republican had delivered a speech half as relentless, the media and the Democrats would have colluded to make it the only story of the week. The Republicans calculated that a respected Democrat would be inoculated because, again, Democrats are never, ever, mean - even when they suggest Republicans are baby-killers (as Jesse Jackson did at the 1992 convention). So by concentrating all of their ammo in one sustained blast of Zellfire, they gambled that the usual counterspin about Republican "hate" wouldn't wash.

Only time will Zell if they were right.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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