Cheney-Miller Speech Reaction Roundup

The morning’s press coverage of the Zell Miller and Dick Cheney speeches is even and generally positive. Even the discussion on NPR this morning didn’t seem to suggest that Miller came off as too angry, something I was concerned about.

Cheney Calls Kerry Unfit (WaPo)

Vice President Cheney reached back decades into John F. Kerry’s life Wednesday night, arguing in taunting language that the Democratic presidential nominee has demonstrated through his public statements and votes that he is unfit to be commander in chief in an age of terrorism. “History has shown that a strong and purposeful America is vital to preserving freedom and keeping us safe — yet time and again Senator Kerry has made the wrong call on national security,” Cheney told the Republican National Convention, on a night when President Bush arrived in the city to prepare for his address Thursday. Reciting a litany of what he called misguided actions over the years by Kerry, Cheney started with a comment the Democrat made while in his twenties, saying that he wanted U.S. service members deployed “only at the directive of the United Nations,” and ended with his recent comment that he would be “more sensitive” to the concerns of allies in the war against terrorism.

Democrat Zell Miller of Georgia, who abandoned his party to give the Republican keynote address, used the same themes to deliver a bristling attack on Kerry. His voice booming and his face twisted into a countenance of contempt and anger, the senator said that “Kerry would let Paris decide when America need defending; I want Bush to decide.”

Abandoned his party?

Cheney and G.O.P. Mount Vigorous Assault on Kerry (NYT) [RSS]

Declaring that the nation’s fundamental security was at stake in the presidential election, Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that Senator John Kerry had repeatedly “made the wrong call” on critical foreign policy challenges and failed to appreciate the severity of the threat the nation faced after the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. Cheney’s remarks were part of a vigorous assault that he and his party mounted on Mr. Kerry’s domestic and foreign policy credentials, coupled with a spirited defense of President Bush’s economic stewardship, as the Republicans gathered for the third night of their nominating convention in New York.

Democrat Miller fires up Republicans in keynote speech (CNN)

The theme was opportunity, but most of the talk was on terror. The third night of the Republican convention was billed as a showcase of America as a “land of opportunity,” but the vice president, his fiery forerunner and many of the speakers before them concentrated on presenting President Bush as the country’s protector. Vice President Dick Cheney, after accepting his party’s renomination, gave a nod to the pulling-up-by-the-bootstraps topic when he mentioned that his grandparents had lived in a railroad car. But he quickly moved to the terror issue and said “if the killers of September 11 thought we had lost the will to defend freedom, they did not know America, and they did not know George W. Bush.”

Cheney, Miller Attack Kerry’s Record (Fox)

Moments in history arrive where fundamental decisions must be made on how to keep the American people secure. The nation has reached one of those defining moments, Vice President Dick Cheney said Wednesday night. “Under President Bush (search) we have put in place new policies and created new institutions to defend America, to stop terrorist violence at its source, and to help move the Middle East away from old hatreds and resentments and toward the lasting peace that only freedom can bring,” Cheney told delegates at the 38th Republican National Convention in New York City.

The paid pundits were more mixed in their views, which isn’t surprising.

GOP Locks In on Theme, and Opens Fire on Kerry (Ron Brownstein, LAT)

With their relentless, double-barreled attack on Democratic nominee John F. Kerry on Wednesday night, Vice President Dick Cheney and keynote speaker Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) reduced President Bush’s case for reelection to virtually a single argument: Bush would be tough and resolute in the war on terrorism and Kerry would be neither.

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The pile-driver attack on Kerry’s national security credentials at the Republican convention — following the assault on his military record from a group of Vietnam veterans over the last month — has created twin challenges for the Democrat: maintaining his credibility as a potential leader and finding ways to shift more attention to domestic issues, such as the economy and healthcare, where polls show he holds an advantage over Bush.

Senior Kerry advisors said they believed the attacks Wednesday were so heated that they would backfire with swing voters. But the intensity of the GOP assault this week could increase the pressure on Kerry from Democrats who believe his campaign has not been nearly aggressive enough in criticizing Bush and presenting a case for change.

DEMS’ DEADLY DIVIDE (Dick Morris, NY Post)

LAST night, Dick Che ney said that “Amer ica sees two John Kerry’s” and that Kerry’s “liveliest disagreement” is with himself. But that’s not Kerry’s biggest problem. His real conundrum is that his voters disagree with one another on almost every major foreign-policy and terrorism issue. So, no matter what Kerry says, he will alienate a goodly portion of his voters. This handicap is likely to loom larger and larger as the election moves into its debating phase. But, for now, the Republicans are doing a good job of throwing curveballs that force Kerry to choose between his voting blocks — antagonizing some and invigorating others, bleeding support the whole way.

In an incredibly striking contrast, Bush voters are united on virtually all the questions that divide the Kerry vote. So Bush can advance his agenda with impunity while taking aim at Kerry voters who are antagonized by their candidate whenever he has to choose a position.

Republicans on a roll (Joan Vennochi, Boston Globe)

Republicans know how to package their politics for mass consumption. Say something often enough and eloquently enough, and voter doubt about the incumbent president is pushed to the background. Voters will forget that Bush is decisively leading America in the wrong direction. They will overlook the fact that Bush chose to avenge the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by invading a country that had nothing to do with those atrocities. They will ignore the destruction and violence in Iraq out of loyalty to those brave Americans who volunteer for military service. As for the economy, the GOP is gambling that economic indicators will remain just strong enough to give people reason to dismiss any personal uneasiness.

That is the great Republican hope, and the GOP clings to it with good reason. Democrats squandered their July convention week and the entire month of August. Ron Kaufman, GOP national committeeman from Massachusetts and longtime Bush supporter, says that when the Democratic presidential nominee saluted and told Democrats “I am John Kerry, and I’m reporting for duty,” he weakened his chance for victory and enhanced Bush’s. “I believe in my heart the defining moment in this campaign was when John Kerry took the microphone on Thursday night in Boston and said `reporting for duty,’ ” said Kaufman, aboard the USS Intrepid at a Monday night fund-raiser for Governor Romney. “I truly believe it’s one of the biggest mistakes in current American politics. For the American voters, it’s not about what happened 24 years ago or even the last four years.” Kerry, said Kaufman, “focused on the past. Conventions should be focused on the future.”

To the average television viewer, the Republican National Convention is focused on the future. Each night showcases the stars of the post-Bush era: former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona’s Senator John McCain, California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Let the media harp on the narrow GOP platform. The public reads People magazine, not issues papers, and laughs along with Schwarzenegger when he calls economic pessimists “girly-men.”

WHERE NO REPUBLICAN CAN GO (John Podhoretz, NY Post)

I don’t think there’s ever been a speech like last night’s keynote address by Georgia’s Democratic senator, Zell Miller. First, it’s unprecedented for a senator of the opposing party to deliver the most important remarks at a convention besides those of the presidential and vice-presidential nominee. Second, and even more important, it was astonishingly harsh — and harsh about Democrats and the Democratic Party in a way that no major Republican politician would dare to be. If a Republican said, as Miller just did, that “our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats’ manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief,” he’d sound whiny and defensive at the very least. It’s simple political manners for leaders of one party to allow as how the other guys do mean well, kind of. Zell Miller doesn’t need to stand on niceties. He’s a lifelong Democrat who came to political prominence when he was propelled into the Georgia governorship in 1990 by the brilliant campaign strategy of a then-unknown Democratic political consultant named James Carville.

Ronald Reagan used to say, more in sorrow than in anger, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” Zell Miller, still a Democrat, spoke not a syllable in sorrow and spoke thousands of words in anger.

The Jacksonian Persuasion (Michael Barone, RealClear Politics)

Until Wednesday night, I was under the impression that Andrew Jackson had died in 1845. But on Wednesday night he appeared at the podium of the Republican National Convention under the guise of Georgia Senator and former Governor Zell Miller. In the accents of the mountain South, with a directness that left his sentiments unmistakable, with a hatred for what he considers betrayal of America and out of a fierce love of family and country Miller delivered the keynote for this Republican convention in the same place as he had delivered one of the keynotes for Bill Clinton̢۪s convention in New York 12 years before.

At the Moment, Bush’s Strategy Beats Kerry’s (Mort Kondracke, RealClear Politics)

From the beginning, the Bush and Kerry campaigns have been pursuing opposite strategies. Right now, it looks like Bush picked the right one. President Bush’s strategists conceived of the presidential race as a choice between two candidates. Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) people basically thought of it as a referendum on Bush.

At the Democratic convention in Boston, the Kerry campaign brimmed with confidence that the referendum basically had been held, that voters had decided against Bush and that all that Kerry had to do was make himself seem an acceptable alternative. But either they didn’t deliver the goods in Boston – that’s the Bush view – or Kerry had a bad August, or both. Either way, it looks as though the race is what the Bush campaign planned: a choice in which voters are going to heed what they dislike about each candidate as much as what they like.

Imperial President: Opposing Bush becomes unpatriotic. (William Saletan, Slate)

The 2004 election is becoming a referendum on your right to hold the president accountable. That’s the upshot of tonight’s speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and Zell Miller, the Republican National Convention’s keynote speaker.

Cutups and Cutthroats (Maureen Dowd, NYT) [RSS]

Republicans are political killers. They are confident that Americans, in a 9/11 world, are going to be more drawn to political killers who have made some “miscalculations” on Iraq, as W. put it, than with a shaggy-haired Vietnam War protester whom Bush 41 compares to Hanoi Jane. “I still have great difficulty with his coming back and making those statements before the Congress and throwing medals away,” the president’s father told Don Imus yesterday. Republicans know that plunging ahead with a course of action, even if it becomes obvious it’s wrong, is an easier political sell than flip-flopping, even if it’s right.

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While Democrats whined about the meanies and their Swift boat attacks, the G.O.P. juggernaut rolled on. Zell Miller, playing Cotton Mather behind the cross-like lectern, made Mr. Cheney seem rational, with a maniacal litany of weapons he said Mr. Kerry had opposed that can destroy any mud hut in any third world country: B-1 and B-2 bombers, F-14A Tomcats, F-15 Eagles, Patriot and Trident missiles, and Aegis cruisers.

Just as the “third party” ad effort has been ferocious and misleading, so have some of the attack speeches here. Dick Cheney stomped on John Kerry the way he’s stomped on the world. In fact, he stomped on Mr. Kerry for trying to get along with the world: “He talks about leading ‘a more sensitive war on terror’ as though Al Qaeda will be impressed with our softer side.” It’s nice to know Mr. Cheney remembers Al Qaeda.

Kerry playing to GOP view of his leadership (John Kass, Chicago Tribune)

Democrats were angered by what was said about their man, John Kerry, at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night. The Republicans dissected Kerry’s record in the Senate and stressed a theme that is working for the GOP: Kerry has proved over the years that he can give a fancy speech, but he’s an equivocator, a finger-in-the-wind pol who lacks the stuff of leadership. Naturally, Democrats were upset about comments made on get-tough Wednesday. But they shouldn’t be upset about what the Republicans said. It should have been expected. It’s what Kerry didn’t say about Kerry on Wednesday in a speech to the American Legion Convention in Nashville that should bother them.

Rather than address a series of withering commercials from the Swift Boat veterans, Kerry decided not to engage. Rather than confront the Republican mantra using his own words to show that he’s a flip-flopper on Iraq, he kept silent. Rather than engage what threatens him, Kerry offered programs, plans and government benefits to his fellow veterans. He talked about improved health care, hospitals and cheaper medicine if he is elected president in November. It was a speech about political payoff, and he offered them a piece of the pie. But he couldn’t offer a piece of himself.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.