Carter Fires Back At Miller Speech

Posted September 7, 2004 at 6:36pm

Less than one week after Sen. Zell Miller publicly criticized his own party and questioned the fitness of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to serve as commander in chief, former President Jimmy Carter accused his fellow Georgia Democrat of “historically unprecedented disloyalty.”

Carter sent a personal letter to Miller’s office Tuesday that chastised the Senator for his tone in last week’s prime-time keynote speech before the Republican National Convention. Referring to Georgia voters and Democratic Party leaders who helped shape his career, Carter asserted that Miller’s decision to publicly condemn the Democratic Party in an effort to boost President Bush “betrayed our trust.”

“There are many of us loyal Democrats who feel uncomfortable in seeing that you have chosen the rich over the poor, unilateral preemptive war over a strong nation united with others for peace, lies and obfuscation over the truth, and the political technique of personal character assassination as a way to win elections or to garner a few moments of applause,” Carter said in the letter, which was dated Sept. 6 but was received by fax at Miller’s office yesterday. “These are not the characteristics of great Democrats whose legacy you and I have inherited.”

The former president did acknowledge to Miller that his actions could help the GOP in the November elections.

“Everyone knows that you were chosen to speak at the Republican Convention because of your being a ‘Democrat,’ and it’s quite possible that your rabid and mean-spirited speech damaged our party and paid the Republicans some transient dividends,” Carter wrote.

Carter’s rebuke coincided with the Senator’s return to Capitol Hill, where he faced the same colleagues he blamed just one week ago for politicizing the war on terrorism.

“Now, while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats’ manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief,” Miller bellowed from the Madison Square Garden stage.

But there were no fireworks when Miller strode into the Senate chamber last night to vote for one of Bush’s judicial nominees. He stopped briefly to take questions from reporters, and when asked whether he expected a warm greeting from his Democratic colleagues, Miller shrugged his shoulders and walked onto the Senate floor. After casting his vote in favor of Bush’s judicial pick, Miller quickly exited.

The Georgia Senator addressed Carter’s letter in a short statement released by his office Tuesday.

“John F. Kennedy warned about the dangers of extreme party loyalty and once said, ‘What sins have been committed in its name,’” Miller said in the statement. “My first loyalty is and always will be my family.”

While Democrats are angry at Miller, Senate Republicans view the Georgia Democrat as an asset not only to the president’s re-election but also to House and Senate races in the South.

Senate Democratic leaders said there were no plans to penalize Miller for his disloyalty, such as stripping him of his committee assignments.

“Why should we?” asked Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “It is a free country. He’s irrelevant to the Caucus.”

While Miller is a Democrat by registration, most Democratic Senators no longer consider Miller a member of their party. He has co-sponsored Bush’s tax proposals and wrote a scathing book last year that attacked the direction allegedly taken by Democratic leaders. Long before he endorsed Bush for president, Miller stopped attending Democratic strategy meetings.

“I don’t think that anyone here feels that there is anything to be gained” from retribution, said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “He checked out of our Caucus so long ago that only the press considers him a Democrat.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has also written off Miller and plans to ignore him as he heads off into retirement.

DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) said the committee would not try to raise money from Democratic supporters based on Miller’s speech nor demand that the Georgia Democrat refund any money directed to his race in 2000.

Carter also took time to defend himself from Miller’s assertion that Democrats were misguided for believing that “Carter’s pacifism [as president] would lead to peace.”

“They were wrong,” Miller said in his speech.

In his letter, Carter defended his own military service and legislative record for the armed services when he was president.

“I, myself, never claimed to have been a war hero, but I served in the Navy from 1942 to 1953, and, as president, greatly strengthened our military forces and protected our nation and its interests in every way,” Carter wrote. “I don’t believe this warrants your referring to me as a pacifist.”