NEW YORK – Hailed by Republicans as "the conscience of the Democratic Party," Georgia Sen. Zell Miller (search) asserted Wednesday that Senate colleague John Kerry's indecisiveness would encourage terrorists and weaken the country's defenses.
"George Bush wants to grab terrorists by the throat and not let them go to get a better grip," the Georgia senator said. "From John Kerry, they get a 'yes-no-maybe' bowl of mush that can only encourage our enemies and confuse our friends."
To a den of cheering Republicans, Miller delivered the keynote GOP address, a resounding denunciation of Kerry and the Democratic Party to which he has belonged for half a century. He enthusiastically endorsed President Bush's re-election.
"I have knocked on the door of this man's soul and found someone home, a God-fearing man with a good heart and a spine of tempered steel," Miller said. "The man I trust to protect my most precious possession: my family."
The partisan crowd went wild, holding up signs saying "We love Zell" and "It's Zell Miller Time," when he said "No pair has been more wrong, more loudly, more often than the two senators from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy (search) and John Kerry."
Vice President Dick Cheney (search) followed Miller to the podium and said, "I'm sure glad Zell Miller is on our side."
Still, Miller said he has no plans to become a Republican — he's not seeking re-election — and his vote for Bush will be his first for a Republican in 52 years as a voter.
Miller gave the Democratic keynote address 12 years earlier in the same Madison Square Garden, and his colleagues seethed in anger — calling him a turncoat and organizing protests at his office.
Miller, meanwhile, was scathing in his criticism of fellow Democrat Kerry. He said no one had been "more wrong, more loudly, more often."
"For more than 20 years, on every one of the great issues of freedom and security, John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure," Miller said. "As a war protester, Kerry blamed our military. As a senator, he voted to weaken our military."
Miller, D-Ga., said Kerry had voted to cut key weapon systems. "This is a man who wants to be the commander in chief of our U.S. armed forces? U.S. forces armed with what? Spitballs?" Miller said.
In those remarks, Miller ignored the cuts in military spending that Vice President Dick Cheney pushed as defense secretary under the first President Bush. Cheney canceled the Navy F-14D Tomcat fighter and sent Congress a budget that proposed curtailing production of the B-2.
He sneered at Kerry's proposal that the United States seek consensus before going to war, with the United Nations and other nations. "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending. I want Bush to decide," Miller said.
Miller, a former Marine, also accused the Democrats of putting soldiers in danger just to get at Bush.
"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," he said.
Miller said he's standing with Bush.
"I ask which leader it is today that has the vision, the willpower, and yes, the backbone to best protect my family?" he said. "The clear answer to that question has placed me in this hall with you tonight. For my family is more important than my party."
This comes from the same Southern Democrat who in 1992 told the Democratic National Convention that President George H.W. Bush "doesn't get it" and that 12 years of Republicans in the White House "have robbed us of our hope."
But Miller said the current President Bush is the right man for the future.
"Right now the world cannot afford an indecisive America," Miller said. "... In this hour of danger our president has had the courage to stand up."
Republicans hoped Miller's speech would convince undecided voters and maybe some conservative Democrats that Kerry is too liberal for them. Miller has consistently sided with the Republicans on just about every issue during his Senate career.
Miller was known more for his progressive politics while Georgia governor — instituting a statewide lottery to provide free college tuition to all students with "B" averages and leading a failed attempt to remove the Confederate fighting banner from the state flag.
He insists that he hasn't changed, but the Democratic Party has.
Democrats, meanwhile, revived old nicknames like "zigzag Zell." Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., called his speaking to the GOP "a shame and a disgrace."
"During the time I served with Zell Miller, he never once offered a suggestion as to what we might do from a policy standpoint, all he did was cast votes for the other side," New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg said Wednesday. "They could count on him every single time. He hasn't brought anything to the Democratic agenda."
Republicans, however, have treated Miller like a rock star this week. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another Georgian, pointed to Miller as proof that the Democrats were not an inclusive party.