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Follow the bouncing Zell

Our Democratic' senator has changed tunes more times than a Waffle House jukebox"

Consider this oft-repeated criticism of presidential candidate John Kerry, eloquently offered on the opening night of the Republican National Convention by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani: "It is important to see the contrast in approach between the two men — President Bush, a leader who is willing to stick with difficult decisions even as public opinion shifts, and John Kerry, whose record in elected office suggests a man who changes his position often, even on important issues."

Whether Kerry (or, for that matter, Bush) is such a flip-flopper, one thing's certain when it comes to political wafflers: The king of them all is scheduled to deliver the convention's keynote address Sept. 1 (after CL went to press). It's our very own Democratic senator, "Zig Zag" Zell Miller.

As this piece is being written, we can't guess what the old guy is planning to say. But we do know what he's said in the past when it comes to certain issues — and how he's reneged on those claims.

One of Miller's favorite lines is, "To thine own self be true." Which, judging from the congressman's darting to and fro on every issue from the Civil Rights Movement to the Bush family, just goes to show he's every bit the ping-pong ball that Giuliani accuses Kerry of being.

On the lottery ...

ZIG: Miller may best be remembered locally as the governor who created the Georgia Lottery, which was the centerpiece of his 1990 gubernatorial campaign and his proudest legacy. In a 1989 stump speech, he said, "The lottery is something whose time has come."

ZAG: But believe it or not, Miller once opposed the lottery. A few weeks before adopting it (which he did because political consultant James Carville said it would get him elected), Miller told church-goers he opposed a lottery on the grounds it would open the door to gambling and organized crime. And before that, Miller served two years on the board of the Council on Civic and Moral Concerns, the state's leading anti-lottery group.

On civil rights ...

ZIG: In his January 1993 State of the State address, then-Gov. Miller took a courageous stand against bigotry, asking legislators to change the state flag: "It is clear the flag was changed in 1956 to identify Georgia with the dark side of the Confederacy — that desire to deprive some Americans of the equal rights that are the birthright of all Americans."

ZAG: In the 1960s, however, Miller ran for Congress as an opponent of civil rights for blacks, infamously calling Lyndon Johnson "a Southerner who sold his birthright for a mess of dark pottage."

On abortion ...

ZIG: Zell now claims to be ardently pro-life, as he revealed in his recent book, A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat. "I know it is wrong to take these lives," Miller writes. "I hope someday Roe v. Wade will be reversed." He even likens a woman's right to choose to a plantation owner's right to own slaves: "The elite, arrogant plantation owner believed his own self-interest to be more important than the slaves' self-interest. A woman who favors abortion believes her self-interest comes before the unborn's self-interest."

ZAG: But that's a serious 180 from his stance on abortion during most of his political career. "When you get down to the ultimate decision of whether or not to have an abortion, the decision ought to be in the hands of a woman, her pastor, her doctor and her family — and not in the hands of the state," Miller said during his 1989 gubernatorial race. Months later, he added, "I am completely committed to a woman's right to choose."

On John Kerry ...

ZIG: Miller earned the enmity of the Democratic Party when he began trashing its slate of presidential candidates in a November 2003 Wall Street Journal editorial. "[T]he Democratic candidates who want to be president in the worst way are running for office in the worst way," Miller is quoted as saying. "They don't want us to stay the course in this fight between tyranny and freedom. This is our best chance to change the course of history in the Middle East. So I cannot vote for a candidate who wants us to cut and run with our shirttails at half-mast."

ZAG: And yet Miller had nothing but praise for a certain fellow senator he introduced at the 2001 Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Atlanta: "My job tonight is an easy one: to present to you one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best-known and greatest leaders — and a good friend. ... In his 16 years in the Senate, John Kerry ... has worked to strengthen our military, reform public education, boost the economy and protect the environment."

On the Bush family ...

ZIG: Obviously, Zell's biggest zigzag has been his unofficial party switch and his endorsement of the current president. We're guessing that he'll use the occasion of his keynote address at the Republican Convention to repeat this notorious quotation from last year: "I have come to believe that George Bush is the right man in the right place at the right time."

ZAG: But Miller wasn't always so solicitous toward the GOP, as evidenced by his remarks from a previous speaking engagement at New York City's Madison Square Garden — during the 1992 Democratic National Convention, where he also delivered the keynote address and introduced then-nominee Bill Clinton. We'll give Zell the last word:

"We can't all be born rich and handsome and lucky. That's why we have a Democratic Party. ... I am a Democrat because we are the party of hope. For 12 dark years, the Republicans have dealt in cynicism and skepticism. They've mastered the art of division and diversion, and they have robbed us of our hope. ... Let's face facts: George Bush just doesn't get it. He doesn't see it; he doesn't feel it, and he's done nothing about it. That's why we cannot afford four more years."

scott.henry@creativeloafing.com

mara.shalhoup@creativeloafing.com