He’s baaaack!

Published 3:08 pm Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thank goodness. Zell Miller is back. The former heavyweight champion of populist Southern Democrats has come out of retirement. He helped Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss in his just-finished bout with Democrat Jim Martin.

Miller also aided Chambliss in his first race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Max Cleland, who, once upon a time, had been one of Zell’s closest pals and fiercest supporters.

However, I don’t want to go to there. This is not about Zell the hypocrite (or the renegade or the backstabber or the turncoat). That is the Democratic Zell. This is about MyZell, one of the most interesting newsmakers in the annals of Georgia politics. In the end, MyZell turned out to be nearly as great a showman as backward-bicycler Gov. Lester Maddox. Zell also was a high-achieving two-term governor, who gave us the lottery.

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I am happy to see Zell back in the harness and full of fire. Life has been so dull since Zell virtually vanished, soon after delivering a keynote address to the 2004 Republican National Convention. As you may remember, Zell was a Democratic senator from Georgia at the time. He also was a pathfinder for another Democrat, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who campaigned for and with Republican John McCain for president just eight years after being Democrat Al Gore’s running mate.

Democrats forgave Sen. Lieberman a couple of weeks ago and took him back into the fold. He received a minor slap on the wrist. Poor Zell can’t go home again. He has burned all his bridges. Former President Jimmy Carter wanted to boot Zell out of the Democratic Party until cooler heads prevailed and talked the ex-prez out of it.

Ironically, Carter as governor had given Miller his first big break. He named him executive director of the Georgia Democratic Party way back in the 1970s.

Another Democratic stalwart, Gov. Roy Barnes, appointed Miller to the U.S. Senate, thinking he would carry the donkey banner high in the next election. Instead, Miller trashed it in one of the craziest speeches ever delivered at a national GOP convention, after which he wanted to duel Chris Matthews, an MSNBC commentator. Worse than that, Miller begged citizens to vote for the re-election of George W. Bush, who was then in a dead heat with Ohio’s Warren G. Harding for worst president in history.

Since Zell’s rafter-ringer endorsement, Bush has secured a hands-down victory over Harding. There is little argument among objective historians that Bush is first among the last. Check Google if you don’t know why.

Miller has stuck by Bush even as Zell claimed to be the same unchanged Democrat who delivered the eloquent “Why I Am a Democrat” speech to the 1992 Democratic convention. Miller also deserves credit for clearing the way for Bill Clinton to win the Democratic presidential nomination. Think of all the great stories we would have missed if Clinton had not made it to the top. We in the press corps recall what you did, Zell, and salute you for making the 1990s a decade to remember.

Last week in a speech in Gainesville, Miller praised Sen. Chambliss “as the last man standing” to prevent the Democrats from enacting “the far left agenda” of the Barack Obama administration.

Miller exhorted voters to send Chambliss back to the Senate to prevent a “rubber-stamp Congress” from giving President Obama a free ride.

Interestingly, Chambliss is known in some circles as an expert on rubber stamps. He is said to have been the quintessential rubber stamper for President Bush.

Aw, but there’s no need to go into that tender subject either. Bush is water over the dam. Saxby can get a new start. Miller is in his corner along with another retread, the inimitable campaign consultant Tom “Prince of Darkness” Perdue. What a team! It sounds like something right out of “Rocky,” with Perdue playing the Burgess Meredith part. By the way, Perdue spent much of his early career trying to upend Miller, but now they are bedfellows. Isn’t politics wonderful?

Anyway, Zell, welcome back. It’s great to see and hear you. You and I go back a long way. I remember when LBJ went to Gainesville to campaign against you for Congress. I believe you said our president had “sold his birthright for a mess of dark pottage.” Why, heck, now is just the time to dig up that wonderful line and use it again. Think about it, Zell. You’ve come full circle (from Gainesville to Gainesville), and you’re still going strong, from LBJ to BHO. We Georgians ought to be proud of you—I guess.