Kerry's former ally delights right wing with his treachery

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The Independent US

Politics is a rough old trade. But rarely can it have been rougher, nastier and more downright poisonous than when Zell Miller turned on John Kerry from the rostrum of the Republican convention on primetime national TV, to brand his former Democratic colleague in the Senate (and one-time friend) as little short of a traitor.

Politics is a rough old trade. But rarely can it have been rougher, nastier and more downright poisonous than when Zell Miller turned on John Kerry from the rostrum of the Republican convention on primetime national TV, to brand his former Democratic colleague in the Senate (and one-time friend) as little short of a traitor.

Over his 20 years in the Senate, "John Kerry has been more wrong, more weak and more wobbly than any other national figure," said Mr Miller in his address on Wednesday night.

The Democratic presidential challenger was like an auctioneer "selling off our national security," whose anti-terror policies added up to "a bowl of mush". The Massachusetts senator "began his career by saying that US troops should be deployed only under United Nations orders," Mr Miller charged, referring to an interview to a Harvard paper given by a 27-year-old Kerry in 1970.

Today "Kerry would let Paris decide when America needs defending." Such barbs are common currency, said with a smile and played for laughs. But Mr Miller - who still professes to be a Democrat, as he was when 12 years earlier he delivered the main speech for Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention in the same Madison Square Garden arena - was deadly serious. Not once did he smile. His address came across as a malevolent cocktail of bitterness, anger, and score-settling.

Referring to a recent speech by Mr Kerry, the 72-year-old Georgia senator declared that "nothing makes this old Marine madder than when he hears American troops described as 'occupiers,' rather than liberators." Hardboiled cable pundits were flabbergasted by the performance. One likened Mr Miller to Lester Maddox, Georgia's former racist demagogue governor. Joe Klein, Time magazine columnist, author of Primary Colors and a man rarely lost for words, was initially speechless when asked for his reaction.

The nearest comparison at recent conventions was the "religious war" tirade of the populist Pat Buchanan at the 1992 Republican convention, widely believed to have scared off independent voters and thus to have contributed to the defeat of George Bush Snr that year. But that was a generic assault against liberals. Mr Miller's was a vitriolic ad hominem attack. The question is, will his rabid assault have a similar effect? The Democrats outwardly played it cool yesterday.

"A couple of grumpy old men" was how a Kerry spokesman described Mr Miller and Vice-President Dick Cheney. Privately, however, senior party figures were outraged. Some predicted the attack would backfire, appealing only to ardent Republicans, increasing the passion of the Democratic base, and possibly alienating undecided voters, just as the Buchanan speech in 1992.

Mr Miller continued in the same vein in cable television interviews later. On MSNBC, after some increasingly angry exchanges with the show's host, Chris Matthews, he told his questioner to "shut up". At one point he said he wished they had lived in an earlier age, because "I would have challenged you to a duel."

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