Miller's speech stirs party passions

Democrats say remarks `turned America off'

McCain critical of tone

September 03, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - If convention keynote addresses are meant to set the political pot to boil, Georgia Sen. Zell Miller's fiery old-time denunciation of his fellow Democratic senator, John Kerry, certainly accomplished that goal.

"I think Zell Miller spoke for himself last night and I think he turned America off last night," said Terry McAuliffe, the national Democratic Party chairman. "I think he frightened even the Republican base."

McAuliffe and other party leaders said the keynote was reminiscent of a divisive speech given by Patrick J. Buchanan to the Republican convention in Houston in 1992, when the combative tone of the event was later judged a factor in the defeat of President George Bush. The Democrats said it stood in stark contrast to what they described as the inspiring Democratic keynote delivered in Boston by Barack Obama, an Illinois Senate candidate.

Republican leaders dismissed the criticism of Miller, a disillusioned Democrat.

"The anger he communicated comes from the heart, and it is very real," said Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives.

But other Republicans said the tone was off. A spokesman for Sen. John McCain of Arizona said it was McCain's "own view that the two parties should not treat each other as enemies but focus on policy differences."

Democrats took issue with more than just the way Miller delivered his message; they disputed some of the specifics as well. In his speech, the former Georgia governor - who spoke on behalf of Bill Clinton in the same arena 12 years ago - charged Kerry with opposing a long list of military hardware and weapons systems, from the B-1 bomber to fighter jets and helicopters to the Patriot missile defense system.

Democrats said the weapons systems ticked off by Miller were not voted on individually but in large legislative measures that some senators opposed partially on deficit-reduction grounds. And they say that Vice President Dick Cheney, when he was defense secretary back in the first Bush administration, sought to kill some of the same Pentagon programs.

"It is extremely hypocritical for them to attack Senator Kerry on these issues," said Phil Singer, a spokesman for the Democrats.

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