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Is Dennis Miller a Republican? The question may seem silly, but considering that you can count Hollywood’s openly conservative stars on the one hand of a bad woodshop teacher—as Miller might say—the actor-comedian’s recent appearances on the “Tonight Show,” “Hardball” and (the now-canceled) “Donahue” are quite noteworthy.
First, a little background for those unfamiliar with Miller’s career and track record on politics. From April 1994 through August 2002 he hosted “Dennis Miller Live,” a weekly HBO comedy show in which he would deliver his trademark “rants” about various topical issues, always ending with the disclaimer: “Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.” Though he was never a partisan Democrat in the vein of Al Franken ’73, Miller consistently skewered the GOP as an insensitive, intolerant collection of right-wing blowhards. On one show in September 1995, he said Mario Cuomo’s address to the 1984 Democratic Convention had been “fueled by brains, guts, and compassion, and it made you proud to be an American.” Miller argued that it was almost impossible to imagine a modern conservative making such a speech: “I think they may lack the compassion. Their conscience doesn’t seem to bother them enough.”
During the early years of his HBO program, moreover, Miller often saved his most acerbic barbs for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, sarcastically comparing him to Hitler and claiming he was “further to the right than the part in Sam Donaldson’s hair.” Later, in May 1998, he characterized Gingrich’s ’94 Republican class as a “band of fascist elves.”
Fast-forward to Dennis Miller in the post-Sept. 11 era. He has advocated ethnic profiling at airports, contended (albeit half-jokingly) that America should test a nuclear bomb “just to let [the terrorists] know we’re sitting on a nice hold card,” declared his support for military action to topple Saddam Hussein and, in recent months, disclosed that he is a “Bush fan.” What happened?
Well, without sounding too trite, Sept. 11 happened. The cynical, derisive attitude that Miller had cultivated on his show seemed to have a place during the Clinton-Gingrich years. But after 3,000 people were slaughtered on American soil by genocidal terrorists, skepticism for the sake of skepticism was no longer chic. Indeed, it seemed drastically inappropriate.
Yet Miller’s conversion to a more conservative outlook has had little to do with what TV audiences might find acceptable. He’s made his most emphatic pro-Bush statements, in fact, during the past four or five months, well after the cancellation of his HBO show in August. Following the mid-term elections last November, he told Jay Leno that he wanted to “congratulate my President. I think he had a great day. I think George Bush is a good man.” Miller noted that the president had “done a fine job in these last two years.” More importantly, he explained to the “Tonight Show” host his disillusionment with the Democrats. “You know I consider both sides in an election before I vote,” he said. “I looked at what the Democrats are saying. They’re saying, ‘Listen we want more of your money and we’re not really keen on preemptively protecting you from bad guys.’ You know what folks? I don’t want the bad guys to have the next move. I don’t want to see two more big buildings blown up.” The comic intimated that he found “our approach to the war on terrorism to be amazingly nonchalant.” For that matter, Miller stressed that the election had been “a mandate...saying, ‘Listen! We don’t want these morons trying to croak us!’”
Then, during a Jan. 31 appearance on “Hardball” with Chris Matthews, he revealed that he had been a “lifelong Democrat” until very recently. When asked why he had become such an ardent supporter of President Bush’s war strategy, Miller gave a most rational, and un-Hollywood, answer. If he had to put his faith in George Bush or Saddam Hussein, Miller said, he’d choose Bush. This gets to the crux, really, of the problem that anti-war celebrities have encountered on the Iraq issue: They seem to trust the dictator in Baghdad more than their own president. Their statements make it appear as if they actually believe Saddam doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction.
Phil Donahue has fallen into this trap of downplaying the Iraqi threat, and Miller called him on it last month. When Donahue smugly supposed, metaphorically, that America might start a war thinking Saddam had a “gun” and then find out afterwards that he only had a “rock,” Miller became exasperated. “Oh, if it was only a rock, Phil, for God’s sakes. The sword of Damocles is now an ICBM of Damocles, for God’s sakes.”
Of course, Dennis Miller is not a Rush Limbaugh “Dittohead,” nor has he become a movement conservative. But like a vast majority of Americans he has been pleased with the president’s policies to combat terrorism. Miller has also shown that, unlike many of Tinseltown’s wannabe foreign-policy analysts, he understands the gravity of the threat posed by the intersection of rogue regimes, terrorists and deadly technology. He knows that a campaign to depose Saddam would not be an isolated war; rather, it would be another front in the larger war to eradicate Islamic terrorism and its state sponsors. Delivered with his customary biting wit and hilarious pop-culture analogies, Miller’s recent remarks have been a breath of fresh air amidst a whirling storm of left-wing celebrity propaganda theories.
As for Miller’s best quip about the Iraq situation? My vote would be for this one, concerning The New York Times editorial board, delivered on “Donahue” in mid-February: “If only Saddam Hussein would open an all-male country club somewhere in Iraq, so the Times could get behind this invasion.” Clever as always.
Duncan M. Currie ’04 is a history concentrator in Leverett House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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