While Zell Miller was

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While Zell Miller was speaking this evening, I was sitting in the radio section of Madison Square Garden, down a few floors from the main level, crouched in a pocket where I managed to find some available connectivity to finish up some reporting. That’s a fancy way of saying that I didn’t hear the thing word-for-word, only the tenor and certain passages and the various talk radio hounds whooping and cheering for this line or that.

But just on a pure political level it didn’t seem to me like the sort of speech the planners would want in prime time. There’s a lot of rage and anger in that man — and I can’t imagine a viewer coming to that speech with an open and politically-uncommitted mind who wouldn’t wonder where it was from. The tone struck me as a bit ranting and wild, barking and angry, with Miller channeling some mix of Heart of Darkness and Deliverance, which I can’t quite decipher but did not want to be near.

Andrew Sullivan captures Miller’s craggy and curdled mix of lies and blood and soil. A senator from the other party willing to endorse your party’s nominee is something that would be hard for either party to pass up. But I think the Republicans let this one go to their head.

Three years ago Miller called Kerry one of the “nation’s authentic heroes.” Now, he seems to think differently.

I mentioned in a previous post these quotes from Mitt Romney’s speech, which came earlier in the evening. And even though his speech — in some superficial sense — probably didn’t seem like such a red-meat endeavor, to me it captured the imagery of foreboding, fear and lies which is at the heart of this convention, but seldom stated so crisply.

First, of course, there were the back of the hand slaps at Kerry’s military service. Romney said he “respect[ed Kerry’s] four months under fire in Vietnam.” But then there were these lines: “America is under attack from almost every direction.” Not just from the terrorists, it seems. But everywhere and by everyone. Everyone wants to get us. We’re in danger on every front. And of course the inevitable kulturkampf or stab in the back dimension of the story: “American values are under attack from within.”

If one weren’t so level-headed one might think someone was trying to whip up mass-hysteria.

Along those lines, I’ve been listening closely to the way these speakers talk about war – its immanence and ever-presence, often in ways that don’t jump out at you. In his speech on Monday Sen. George Allen — current head of the Republicans’ Senate campaign committee — called this election “the most important since 1980” and then went on to describe this one and that one both as “elections decided in the midst of war.”

The ‘war’ he was talking about for 1980, of course, was the Cold War. But the tenor of the comparison to me had an ominous feel, a retrospective redefinition of the past aimed at making war seem like a permanent, ever-present condition.

Was 1980 a war-time election? I don’t think most people at the time would have said so. Indeed, I think that’s an understatement. Was national security a major issue? Yes. But an election decided in time of war? 1980 was a peacetime election. 1968 and 1972 might fairly be called wartime elections. 1944 was definitely a wartime election. Not 1980.

After Miller left the stage I hustled my way up to the seventh floor to listen to Vice President Cheney’s speech in the hall itself. My first thought was, bold words for a man whose office is the subject of an on-going criminal inquiry. But apparently that’s not the subject of polite conversation.

As I walked around the hall — in a circle from the left side of the stage all the way around to the right — my sense was that the crowd was not quite as raucous as I might have expected. Not that it fell flat of course. There were plenty of applause lines. The audience got plenty animated with the advance-choreographed flipflop routine. And to his credit Cheney had much, much less of the swaggering militarism of Miller’s diatribe. But the crowd didn’t seem to have the roar in it that I remember for Cheney’s speech four years ago.

It won’t surprise you to hear me say that I’m no great fan of our Vice President. So perhaps it’s telling — or at least I found it telling as I walked back to Chelsea after I left the Garden — that his speech struck me as one of the more level-headed ones I’d heard. This whole confab has been built around militarism, the seductions of the mentality of seige and insecurity both from without and within, and the sort of no-rules-win-at-all-costs-lie-if-it-works mentality that will lead this nation to grief.

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