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A Deficit of Decency By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, June 16, 2005


Buy Zell Miller’s new book, A Deficit of Decency, for $27.95 in the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore.

After hearing his stirring keynote address at last year’s Republican National Convention, the “mainstream” media elite likened Zell Miller to one of the Biblical prophets. The appellation, which they intended to be condescending, endeared him to those who actually inhabit the American mainstream. The now-retired senator has rendered his nation a parting service, combining the wisdom of the prophets with the insights of a lifelong politician in his new book, A Deficit of Decency.

 

Heartwarming personal anecdotes and moments of inspiration fill out Miller’s fitting sequel to its best-selling predecessor, A National Party No More. In his latest volume, Zell actually writes two books: a short autobiography of his role in the 2004 presidential campaign, and a whirlwind tour of the political mess created by D.C. (which he says stands for “Washington, Doesn’t Care”) – and how to get out of it. He describes the pain of being anathematized by former friends, his keynote speech, the infamous “duel” challenge, and stumping to victory with President Bush through many a battleground state. He also offers enlightening analysis of the U.S. Senate, the United Nations (and the two have more in common than you think!), the Border Patrol, and the state of American education. However, perhaps the book’s most powerful moments come while recounting the political and spiritual transformation wrought by the author’s public and private upheavals.

 

Following Sean Hannity’s foreword, Miller picks up where A National Party No More left off, discussing how the lifelong Democrat chose to act upon his decision to support President Bush. Although the media parodied the former Marine drill sergeant for the “harsh” tone of his keynote speech – something they did not do to, say, Ted Kennedy’s “Where Was George?” harangue in 1988, or Miller’s previous keynote address supporting Bill Clinton – Miller recounts how he settled on the tenor and content of his speech: time, place, and function. A keynote speaker is supposed to be the “attack dog,” he notes, and John Kerry supported so many national security disasters one barely had time to recount them all in all of prime time. Thus, the poetry got tossed, and the speech (which is reproduced in full in an appendix) served up red meat to the Red State voters. Although the media criticized the “Zell yell,” polls demonstrated most Americans of all political backgrounds found him effective without being over-the-top, and as the media continued lying about Kerry’s voting record, Miller’s audiences found “spitballs” an apt metapher for the senator’s defense policy.

 

Miller also takes his readers behind the events leading up to his verbal shootout with Chris Matthews on “Hardball” – and how he feared he had wounded the candidate he intended to help. Matthews’ atrocious treatment of Michelle Malkin – and the fact that Matthews and Ron Reagan derided this “New South” racial progressive (in the true sense of the word) as a segregationist – weighed heavily on his mind before Jimmy Carter’s speechwriter began shouting him down. Little did Zell know it solidified his image as a man who would not back down before his accusers. Matthews came off as a man with a spleen; Miller came off as a man with a backbone. 

 

This performance led Miller on a multi-state campaign that swept the president to re-election. The inside view of how Miller connected with rural Values Voters the Democrats now covet alone is worth the cover price.

 

Unfortunately for his party, he also spells out why they are so unsuccessful: their policies are out of touch with the concerns that motivate this demographic. The second half of his book spells out a platform any voter campaigning among such folks would be wise to embrace. He details how the UN – which he dubs the “Useless Nuisance” – has attempted to enact an international tax code, a worldwide gun grab, and endless treaties eroding private citizens’ property rights and parental authority. In the chapter “Seal Our Borders,” he details how one 10-mile stretch of fence constructed near San Diego has stopped nearly a half-million illegals annually – and how environmental fanatics have sued to prevent its completion. He also covers the tax code, “witch hunting” senate Democrats, the litigious atmosphere that created the separation of school and discipline, the “Christianphobes” who fill “holiday pageants” with Kwanzaa ditties and cross-dressing Indians (seriously), and much more. His indictment of our culture of victimization is a must-read.

 

A Deficit of Decency also delights in that it delivers an unexpected surprise from its so fervently religious title. Although Biblical references and sacred themes pervade the book, Zell makes readers of all religions (or not religion) feel perfectly at ease – without overly emotional religiosity or self-righteous bellowing. One intuits the Scriptural quotations have become the idiom by which he expresses his newfound, profound faith, that his spiritual awakening has become a visceral part of the way he communicates. He never beats his reader over the head with the Bible as so many on the Religious Right do but gently (yes, gently) lays out the reasons his readers should embrace the decent values at which he has arrived. Southern culture aside, he is more Fulton J. Sheen than Jimmy Swaggart.

The book is not without its difficulties. The single exception to the trend noted above is Miller’s chapter on popular culture, “Freedom From Speech,” in which he argues gangsta rap lyrics and lewd PG-rated videos should not be “protected by the Constitution.” In the same chapter, he comments on his love of country music, long distinguished by its glut of drinking-and-cheating songs; is this positive guidance for the rural poor? These are matters best corrected by a revival of the lost art of parenting (which he devotes a chapter to encouraging). To a lesser extent, one could quibble with chapter advocating a 23 percent National Sales Tax, which would likely be regressive. But these are blips in an otherwise excellent book.

 

Miller weaves touching personal history around the political narrative to produce a book that is heartening and uplifting. He writes of the family health crisis that deepened his faith; of the hard-working widowed mother who taught him the key to success was to “work hard” and “save your money”; of the generation of “Builders” who made this country great; and of the teachers, coaches, family members, and Labrador Retrievers who made him believe that, standing on the barren, rocky peaks of his tiny Appalachian home town, he could go anywhere. The American Dream lives on.

 

Buy Zell Miller’s new book, A Deficit of Decency, is available for $27.95 from the FrontPage Magazine Bookstore.

Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).


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