A Turncoat and a Profiteer

When Senator Zell Miller took the stage on the third night of the Republican National Convention, the president’s supporters were confronted with a rabid dog, a mean spirited and vindictive assault on the character of his own party’s leader, a cry to war reminiscent of General Patton’s rallying of the troops. In an atmosphere of war frenzy and rage, Americans at home were allowed to catch a glimpse of the grave danger we now face. How easy it is to stir a partisan mob’s irrational rage and how difficult it is to restore reason.

Senator Miller should be reminded that it is possible to regard those whose views are diametrically opposed to one’s own with respect, even admiration. It is also possible to disdain someone whose political agenda is consonant with one’s own because his actions or motives dishonor an otherwise honorable cause.

Who is this man, this raging warmonger with so little regard for the facts or appreciation for the cold, hard realities of the day? That the war and occupation have been mishandled, that the rationale for war has been discredited, and that the situation on the ground is untenable, are facts that the president himself has admitted. To claim, at this late stage, that to characterize our presence in Iraq as an occupation (rather than a liberation) is somehow dishonorable is so far beyond the scope of reason it begs the question: What is the Senator’s dog in this fight?

We are not confronted with the Nazi menace of World War II. We are facing a problem that most of the world is long familiar with: terrorism without borders. Based on false premises, we have invaded a nation that had nothing to do with those who attacked us. If we cannot voice our dissent now without incurring the wrath of our leaders, then it is not us but our leaders who require a lesson on the principles of democracy.

If anyone should have risen to the defense of John Kerry against the charge of inconstancy, it should have been “Zig Zag Zell” Miller. He has long been famous for taking both sides of disparate issues, including abortion and gay rights. Now he descends from the mountain with a fresh tablet to give testament: I have seen the light, oh lord, and his name is George Dubya. Even Arnold might have written a better script.

Zell Miller is that peculiar breed of politician who, rather than admitting that he has aligned himself with the wrong party, attempts to collect political dividends by feigning an eleventh hour epiphany. Whatever the Senator once was, he is now an opportunist. He is a warmongering, right wing zealot who has betrayed his party for a share of the spotlight. The South, for all its incongruities, understands loyalty. They will not look kindly on this act of partisan treachery. Senator Miller is having his last dance before he stumbles into obscurity. For the Senator, 911 is the answer to this mysterious transformation but he does not allow that it might have changed Senator Kerry at all.

What Zell Miller delivered with venom and rage, the Vice President duplicated with a softer voice and a wry grin. It was Dick Cheney who served notice, in the days after 911, that the war on terrorism would be long and hard. He meant, of course, that it would be hard for other men’s sons and daughters, not his own.

Dick Cheney never served his country in war. He received no less than five student deferments while others served in his place. In his own words, Dick Cheney had “other priorities.” So be it. A man should not be held to account for avoiding danger in his younger days. He should, however, be fully accountable for his actions during his current term of office.

In every war there are people who profit from the misfortunes of others. Times of war are times of sacrifice for those who are chosen to fight, for their families and loved ones. There is, however, no sacrifice for those on the payrolls of McDonald-Douglas, Boeing, GenTech or Halliburton. For the military-industrial complex (the makers of munitions, providers of mercenary armies, and those who specialize in rebuilding infrastructures in war zones), the promise of a 40-year war is manna from corporate heaven. When the spoils of war include the second largest oil reserves on earth, the oil industry rises to the head of the profiteering class.

Of all the profiteers to emerge from the rubble of Afghanistan and Iraq, the most prominent is Halliburton, the multinational corporation that was blessed with uncontested government contracts, that has blatantly defrauded American taxpayers, that has unashamedly sheltered its tax burden with offshore accounts, and whose profit margin has risen dramatically with each casualty of war.

Is it fair to blame Dick Cheney for the sins of the corporation he formerly chaired? It is if he remains on the company payroll. He does. It is if he shares in the profits of that company’s good fortune. He does. It is if he maintains ties to that company (he does) and used his position in government to influence contracting procedures. He did.

In times of war, those who are engaged in battle often come to admire the opposing side: The Nazi commanders admired Patton, Lincoln admired Robert E. Lee, and Robert McNamara secretly admired Daniel Ellsberg. There are at least two classes of men, however, that are universally disdained in times of crisis: Turncoats and Profiteers.

We regard Dick Cheney with richly deserved scorn. As the opposition leader was fond of saying to Prime Minister Tony Blair: No one believes a word you say.

For all the spite and venom, the Republicans have made their message clear: It is all about war. They will attack their political opponent as if he is the enemy. Either you are with us or you are with them. If you are with them, then you deserve neither respect nor common decency.

The war is on.




Jack Random is the author of Jazzman Chronicles (Crow Dog Press) and Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press.)