Miller’s Musings

Ex-Senator’s New Book Delves Into Society’s Ills

Posted May 2, 2005 at 4:14pm

About a month after Zell Miller (D) famously expressed a yen to challenge “Hardball” host Chris Matthews to a duel during last summer’s Republican National Convention, Matthews phoned the then-Georgia Senator’s office asking him to return to the show.

“He thought it might be like a stillness at Appomattox,” Miller said, referring to the potential reunion.

“I sent word back: ‘Is that a metaphor?’” recalled Miller, adding that Matthews had borrowed the phrase from a “famous [Civil War] history book by Bruce Catton” of the same name.

Needless to say, Miller hasn’t reappeared on Matthews’ show since. But he’s hardly retreated into a life of quiet anonymity in his Appalachian home of Young Harris, Ga., either.

Just months after his retirement from the Senate at the end of the 108th Congress, the self-styled Cassandra of the Democratic Party, who in 2003 offered a searing assessment of his party’s lackluster state in the bestselling “A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat,” has followed that effort by turning his attention to the American culture at-large.

The result is “A Deficit of Decency,” an extended meditation on what Miller considers contemporary society’s ills, from steroid use in baseball to illegal immigration to the recondite tax code, written in Miller’s signature folksy idiom with all the breathless fervor of an evangelical minister or politician in the throes of a stem-winder.

“It’s my way … I guess of putting up a warning sign,” Miller said in a telephone interview Monday as he headed to the Atlanta airport for a flight to New York, where his TV appearances were scheduled to include “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” “Hannity and Colmes” and “Fox & Friends,” among many others.

Miller, who on Thursday was rushed to the hospital with flu-like symptoms after excusing himself in the middle of a speech, was still feeling a bit under the weather.

“But I’m going to make it,” he said in typical fighting form.

Since his last book, the 73-year-old Miller, who also serves as a Fox News contributor and a senior policy adviser to the law firm McKenna, Long & Aldridge LLP, has clearly undergone a major religious awakening.

After years as a “Sunday Morning Christian,” the self-described fundamentalist and “Christocrat” is happy to report in his book: “I am now Christian 24/7, strong, almost militant, in my beliefs.” He has also taken up daily Bible reading and, as a result, liberally sprinkles his prose with Scriptural references.

“This book is about the soul,” he writes in the tome’s opening pages, and the ways nations and humans are tempted “to exchange or sell our souls.”

That said, those looking for juicy tidbits will be mostly disappointed: Miller has written a traditional values treatise, with few exceptions. Only his post-Republican National Convention keynote speech appearance on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” is worth the index surfing. Among other things, Miller relates that he had “come to detest Chris Matthews’s know-it-all attitude and bullying way of interviewing” and that earlier in the evening he had heard Matthews refer to him as “an old-time seggy,” or segregationist, the combination of which was too much for the short-tempered Miller to bear.

While Miller writes that he regrets the exchange, it is “Matthews’s lack of hospitality” that “pushed this old Marine too far.”

Meanwhile, the keynoter Miller delivered earlier in the evening, in which, after reciting a litany of weapons systems his Democratic colleague John Kerry had opposed over the years, Miller implicitly accused the Massachusetts Senator of wanting to arm U.S. military forces with spitballs, also gets its share of ink. A chunk of one chapter is devoted to the press (largely negative) he received for the address, and both the speech itself and Miller’s rough draft are included in full for the reader’s perusal.

“A Deficit of Decency,” which grew out of a 2004 Senate floor speech by the same name, includes plenty of humorous (depending on the color of one’s politics) Millerisms. In Miller’s parlance, Washington, D.C., stands for “Washington, Doesn’t Care”; Kerry’s advisers are “Pander Bears”; the United Nations may as well be rechristened the “Useless Nuisance”; and the Democratic Party has turned its back on “Joe Six-Pack” in favor of his snotty, French-sounding relation, “Josephus Chardonnay.”

There is plenty in America that Miller wants to halt or outright abolish: misogynistic rap lyrics and the generally smutty popular culture they have come to symbolize, abortion, “activist judges,” the IRS, the U.N., the 17th Amendment (which allows for the direct election of Senators) and the secularization of the Christmas holiday season, to name just a sample.

“I’m thinking about picking up my hammer next Christmas and joining the ‘God Squad’ in Chicago,” Miller writes of the group that each year builds a nativity in Daley Plaza. “These good and brave people simply refused to be intimidated by the ACLU and the American Atheists.”

One American blemish Miller doesn’t want to dwell on is the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war at the Abu Ghraib prison. Miller, who has questioned the degree of outcry over the abuse on the Senate floor, chalks up “the sadistic sex games and torture” that occurred there to “the unbelievable stupidity of a few American soldiers.” In his opinion, the prison scandal is further proof “that there are certain kinds of military missions [where] male and female soldiers should not serve together.”

“There is room only for 100 percent Americanism,” he notes earlier in the chapter.

Still, Miller does find some bright spots in his generally dyspeptic survey of the nation’s political and social culture.

President Bush’s 2004 re-election, for instance, reaffirmed “America’s faith in freedom” and in Miller’s view it was no less momentous than the re-elections of Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and Franklin Roosevelt in 1944, and Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. Miller and his wife, Shirley, toasted Bush’s victory in “the most important [election] in my lifetime” with cans of Ensure (Zell, naturally, had chocolate; Shirley, vanilla) then attempted (unsuccessfully) to sleep.

Looking ahead, the former Georgia governor warns of the potential threat “the Hillary of 2008” poses to the Republican Party’s continued lock on the White House.

He recounts an encounter with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in an elevator, which occurred shortly after Miller declared on the Senate floor that the nation “is rapidly dividing itself into wimps and warriors.”

According to Miller’s account in the book, the New York Democrat asked him: “Am I a wimp or a warrior?”

“You’re a warrior,” he assured her.

“She’s a force to be reckoned with,” added Miller, who said he still holds out hope the Democratic Party will return to its inclusive roots.

As for the Republican presidential field, Miller “like[s] them all,” though that doesn’t mean he’ll be campaigning for any of the GOP hopefuls.

“I’m not sure I’m even going to be alive in 2006,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’m past my three score and ten by about three years already.”