Finally, Miller agreed to serve, but he was appalled by the partisanship of Tom Daschle's Democratic Caucus. Since he became Democratic leader in 1994, Daschle has excelled at holding Senate Democrats together and using the rules of the Senate to frustrate the Republican majority from 1995 to 2001 and to frustrate George W. Bush when he became majority leader in June 2001. With winks and nods, Senate Democrats and their ultrapartisan staffers prevented Republicans from getting the 60 votes increasingly necessary to get anything through the Senate. Just stick together, Daschle said, and don't worry about negative fallout; we'll be protected by the increasingly partisan pro-Democratic old media, and we can force the other side to give in.
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It was a game Zell Miller did not want to play. In December 2000, he went to Austin, Texas, to visit with President-elect George W. Bush, whom he knew from their time as governors together. Miller promised to support Bush's education bill and volunteered his support of Bush's tax cut. Daschle, of course, was furious; Miller became a pariah in the unity-conscious Democratic Caucus. Then came September 11. Daschle rallied to support Bush in September, but by December was holding up the economic stimulus bill by his effective partisan tactics. Then, as the focus shifted toward Iraq, Senate Democrats laid the predicate for undermining Bush's policies. This Miller evidently identified as something close to treason. And he saw the Senate Democrats rooting against American success. As he said in Madison Square Garden, "Motivated more by partisan politics than by national security, today's Democratic leaders see America as an occupier, not a liberator. And nothing makes this marine madder than someone calling American troops occupiers rather than liberators." No better friend, no worse enemy.
From there he launched into a harsh attack on today's Democratsan attack so harsh that the partisan anti-Republican press would have denounced had it been made by a Republican. "In their warped way of thinking," he said, "America is the problem, not the solution"an echo of former Democrat Jeane Kirkpatrick's riff in San Francisco 20 years ago that Democrats "always blame America first." "They claimed Carter's pacifism would lead to peace. They were wrong. They claimed that Reagan's defense buildup would lead to war. They were wrong." Points well taken by the Republican audience. Points that would have come naturally to Andrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party.
Miller then followed with a listing of "all the weapons systems that Senator Kerry tried his best to shut down"and the way that those weapons systems were used in Afghanistan and Iraqthe B-1 bomber, the B-2 bomber, the F-14A Tomcat, the modernized F-14D, the Apache helicopter, the F-15 Eagle, the Patriot missile, the Aegis air defense cruiser, the Strategic Defense Initiative, the Trident missile"against, against, against." "This is the man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces?" Miller continued. "U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?"
Miller went on to attack John Kerry's nuanced vote (cast when Howard Dean was leading him in primary polls) against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for, among other things, protective body armor for the troops. But his peroration was about character. "George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip. From John Kerry, they get a "yes-no-maybe" bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends. I first got to know George W. Bush when we served as governors together. I admire this man. I am moved by the respect he shows the first lady, his unabashed love for his parents and his daughters, and the fact that he is unashamed of his belief that God is not indifferent to America. I can identify"Miller's autobiography records his youthful carousing"with someone who has lived that line in 'Amazing Grace,' 'Was blind, but now I see,' and I like the fact that he's the same man on Saturday night that he is on Sunday morning. He is not a slick talker but he is a straight shooter, and, where I come from, deeds mean a lot more than words. I have knocked on the door of this man's soul and found someone home, a God-fearing man with a good heart and a spine of tempered steel." The other guy, one gathers, is a slick empty suit.