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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

Novelty Act

September 02, 2004

Georgia's Zell Miller is a former governor filling out the U.S. Senate term of the late Paul Coverdell, who died in 2000. As far as power goes in the Senate, especially for a minority Democrat, that is the equivalent of being a fraternity pledge. Or a summer intern. And Miller, at 72, isn't planning to run again. But by deciding he's a Republican at heart, and putting that heart at the service of President Bush, Miller got to be a national star for a night.

As the Democratic convention had Ron Reagan, the Republicans have Miller. Of course, the younger son of Ronald Reagan never ran for office and wasn't delivering the convention's keynote speech. But so what. Both sides were after shock value. Miller, having given a keynote speech for Bill Clinton in 1992, delivered handsomely on that score. As a speaker, though, he's no Barack Obama. Or John McCain. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger.

His speech dived right into a betrayal theme, likening the Iraq war to World War II and accusing Democrats (himself excepted, obviously) of weakening the republic with a "manic obsession" to defeat the president. His retro rhetorical flourishes included: "John Kerry wants to re-fight yesterday's war. George Bush believes we have to fight today's war and be ready for tomorrow's challenges." He drew cheers, but was an easy act for the phlegmatic Vice President Dick Cheney to follow.

Miller also called Kerry "one of this nation's authentic heroes

As Democratic governor of Georgia for most of the 1990s, Miller made a lasting mark with innovative public scholarships and the institution of voluntary universal preschool. On Wednesday night, though, he played a standard vaudeville role.

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