Miller's speech evoked much louder cheers than the speech of Vice President Dick Cheney, which followed. Miller speaks in the sharp accents of the mountain South, as Andrew Jackson probably did; Cheney speaks in the flat accents of the Great Plains and empty mountain basins of Nebraska and Wyoming, where he grew up. But Cheney made many of the same points. His enunciation of the Bush administration's record on domestic issues was little more than perfunctory; we are waiting for Thursday night when Bush himself will set out (or not) in vivid terms his domestic program for the next four years. His attacks on Kerry were more quietly voiced but just as penetrating as Miller's. "Time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong calls on national security." "Senator Kerry's liveliest disagreement is with himself. His back-and-forth reflects a habit of indecision and sends forth a message of indecision. And it is all part of a pattern. . . . Senator Kerry says he sees two Americas. It makes the whole thing mutual"pause here for an explosion of cheers"America sees two John Kerrys."
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All of this seems likely to be effective stuff for this year's campaign. But both Miller and Cheney, in their different accents and different ways, took care to put it in historic perspective. Miller recalls that when he was a boy, in a time of national emergency so dire that even boys in Young Harris, Ga., knew that there were people overseas who wanted to kill us, President Franklin Roosevelt found support from his Republican opponent Wendell Willkie in the 1940 campaign and in the war years that followed. Cheney told how President Harry Truman reshaped American foreign policy in the years after World War II and prosecuted the Cold War and was supported, in the domestically bitter 1948 campaign, by Thomas Dewey, and how Truman's policies were followed by his successors, Republican Dwight Eisenhower and Democrat John Kennedy.
George W. Bush, prompted by September 11, has reshaped American foreign policy as no president has since Roosevelt and Truman. But, as Miller and Cheney both noted, Bush has not had the support of most of the leading members of the opposition party as Roosevelt and Truman did. The Democrats, drawing on their memories of the Vietnam period, have sought to extract political advantage from setbacks that were far less serious than those encountered by Roosevelt and Truman. Dewey in 1944 did not belittle the campaign in North Africa that Rick Atkinson's recent book shows was riddled with mistakes, and Dewey in 1948 did not predict defeat and disaster for the Berlin Airlift that was ongoing during the campaign and whose success at the time seemed anything but obvious. Dewey and his Republicans in private mistrusted Roosevelt and condescended to Truman, but in public they rooted for American success and refrained from denigrating their efforts.
What a contrast from todayand from the days of the Nixon administration in Vietnam. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Democrats who had complacently gone along with Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam decided that Richard Nixon's de-escalation was insufficiently rapid and amounted toin John Kerry's words in 1971a deliberate and systematic engagement in war crimes by American military forces at all levels. In 2003 and 2004, Democratic politicians, infected by their and their staffers' recollection of their versions of what happened in Vietnam, engaged in systematic denigration of our military efforts in Vietnam. The Democratic convention in Boston seated in President Carter's box Michael Moore, who called those attacking American forces in Iraq freedom fighters who should and would win. The charge that leading Democrats wish that American forces fail in the hopes that it will help their political chances is well founded.
That is something Andrew Jackson would never stomach. Nor will Zell Miller. Or Dick Cheney. Miller was careful to say that he was attacking not the patriotism but the judgment of John Kerry; the only politicians who have accused their opponents of unpatriotism this campaign year have been Democrats like Wesley Clark and Howard Deanboth still trotted out regularly as surrogates for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Miller's and Cheney's manner has been a careful Jacksonianism, mindful of the lesson in Walter Russell Mead's Special Providencethat Jacksonianism has been only one of four strains of America's generally successful foreign policies. The Republican delegates have also cheered for Mead's Jeffersonianism (human rights and humanitarianism: helping AIDS sufferers in Africa and dissidents in China) and his Wilsonianism (democracy in Iraq and the Middle East; and they are quietly supportive of Mead's Hamiltonianism (trade and development through global capitalism). But it is Jacksonianism that stirs more American voters, and it was Jacksonianismin the mountain accents of Zell Miller and the plains accents of Dick Cheneythat was on view at Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.