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Democrat Zell Miller, Who Blasted John Kerry at Republican Convention, Dies at Age 89

On Friday, former Senator Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat, passed away at 89, surrounded by friends and family.

Miller had a long political career. He served in the Georgia State Senate and had two unsuccessful primary bids for the U.S. House of Representatives. He would serve four terms as lieutenant governor, making him the longest-serving LG in Georgia state history. Miller made an unsuccessful primary challenge to Senator Herman Talmadge in 1980, before being elected governor of Georgia in 1990; he would serve two terms. In 1984, he served as Georgia state chairman for the Mondale presidential campaign. After a period out of public life, Miller was appointed to the U.S. Senate in July 2000 to serve out the term of Republican Senator Paul Coverdell following his death. Miller would win a special election for that seat that November.

In 1991, Miller endorsed fellow southern governor Bill Clinton for president of the United States, and delivered the keynote address at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in Madison Square Garden. But, it’s because of his speech fourteen years later, also at Madison Square Garden, at the Republican National Convention, that I’m writing about him today.

Miller may have been a lifelong Democrat, but he often supported Republicans over members of his own party. He supported the Bush tax cuts, and despite having been a supporter of abortion rights as governor, he was a pro-life senator. He endorsed George W. Bush for reelection in 2004 and was chosen as the keynote speaker for the Republican convention. “I'll be a Democrat 'til the day I die,” he said in response to criticism from fellow Democrats of his endorsement of George W. Bush for reelection to the presidency. “If they want to call me a leper or a traitor, that's OK with me.” Miller had been unsure of whether he should give the speech, but his speech, delivered at Madison Square Garden on September 1, 2004, was certainly his most significant and memorable moment on the national stage. In his speech, he told the story of Wendell Willkie, the Republican presidential nominee in 1940. Miller credited Wilkie for giving President Roosevelt “the critical support he needed for a peacetime draft, an unpopular idea at the time.” Wilkie, Miller noted, “made it clear that he would rather lose the election than make national security a partisan campaign issue.”

Shortly before Wilkie died, he told a friend that if he could write his own epitaph and had to choose between "here lies a president" or "here lies one who contributed to saving freedom," he would prefer the latter.

Where are such statesmen today?

Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most?