Miller time

Culture | Culture

Issue: "Ugly truth of partial-birth," April 17, 2004

When some notorious sinner suddenly becomes a Christian, he is often pushed into some &quotministry" that the new believer really cannot handle. The same may be true of the born-again conservative Dennis Miller, who now has been given a nightly show on CNBC.

That news network would dearly like to compete with Fox News, so it has given Mr. Miller, a comedian who became a pro-Bush conservative after 9/11, a political talk show. But what Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity do is harder than it looks.

Mr. Miller has a true vocation as a satirical comic. He has become famous for his &quotrants," in which he lets loose on one of the many absurdities of contemporary life, a category into which he now places liberal politicians and people who are soft on terrorism.

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Now that he has a talk show, Mr. Miller still tends to rant, in ways that are sometimes insightful, but he lets his guests rant too. This is in contrast to having a conversation or even an argument. He makes a point of having some left-wing guest on every show: Mr. Miller has his say at length, then his guest has his or her say at length. They don't really talk to each other or deal with each other's points. They both just rant.

As a recent convert to conservatism, he does not understand how political, economic, and get-tough-on-crime conservatism (which he upholds) requires cultural conservatism, which he is not so committed to. He is OK with gay marriage, for example, and often ends up agreeing with his left-wing guests on cultural issues.

At first, his show had a lot of awkward moments, where only the cameramen could be heard snickering at his jokes. After a hiatus for retooling, the show is back, this time with a studio audience. The new version is much better. A comedian needs a live audience to feed off of, and the satire works much better.

On his &quotVarsity" segment of expert panelists, Mr. Miller typically has some good guests, going beyond the usual suspects who appear on the other talk shows, and the conservative viewer can't help but pull for him, even when his bits fall flat. Maybe he will keep getting better, if his show lasts long enough.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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