DENNIS MILLER insists he's not an across-the-board conservative, which may technically be true. Still, there's no doubt America's most sophisticated and most political comedian has been coming out of the conservative closet in a very big way. He hung out with President Bush and campaigned for him earlier this month on a weekend fundraising trip through California. And, on late night talk shows, Miller has applauded President Bush's leadership and cheered the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Moreover, Miller has lately been pounding the Democratic leadership, the abortion lobby, the French, and big-time lefties like Norman Mailer and Michael Moore. And recently Miller took the final, defining step to becoming a big-time public conservative, by signing up for a regular gig at Fox.

In his first return to weekly television since ending his Emmy award-winning HBO series "Dennis Miller Live" last year, Miller has agreed to provide commentary Friday nights on the "Hannity & Colmes" show. In a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, Miller told me why he got back into television. "There are things that irk me," he said. "I wanted to have a place where I could express my opinions."

The day after his inaugural Fox commentary, Miller traveled with President Bush aboard Air Force One on their way to a reelection fundraiser. "He's a fine man and I'm proud he's my president. I enjoyed spending the day with him." And Miller left little doubt that he'd make time for the president over the next 16 months: "I'd love to. I want this man to be president again. It's a dangerous world, and I can't have guys who are soft on that fact. There are no 'al Kindas.'"

Although Miller served up the red meat to Bush supporters at the fundraiser, he was reportedly booed for joking about West Virginia senator Robert Byrd's former association with the Ku Klux Klan. "I think he's burning the cross at both ends," Miller had riffed. The story gave rise to some public finger-wagging, so I asked him about it. "That pointed out how interesting the coverage is to me. At some point, someone went 'ooh' at the intensity of my remarks. You can call that a 'boo' if you want. Believe me, I was preaching to the choir there. I doubt they were Robert Byrd fans. You know, if there is one place in the world where there are more portraits and buildings named after 'The Leader' than in Iraq, it's West Virginia."

But back to the whole political identity business: "I don't think of myself as a classic conservative," says Miller. "I think of myself as a pragmatist. And these days, pragmatism falls into the conservative camp. We have to depend on ourselves in this country right now because we can't depend on anyone else. We are simultaneously the most loved, hated, feared, and respected nation on this planet. In short, we're Frank Sinatra. And Sinatra didn't become Sinatra playing down for punks outside the Fontainebleau [Hotel]."

September 11 marked the turning point of Miller's voyage to the right, but as far back as 1996 he was referring to himself as a conservative libertarian. Increasingly, Miller couldn't stomach the left's many attempts to demonize politicians like Rudy Giuliani and, later, Attorney General John Ashcroft. "With Giuliani, I was preconditioned to think he was heavy-handed. When actually examining him for myself, I said, 'Wow, New York seems to be running so well.' The guy has a good sense of humor when he talks. I dug him. And then obviously everything was borne out after 9/11 what a great man he is. And with John Ashcroft, the main civil liberty I'm looking to protect is the 'me not getting blown up' one. I don't know if it's written down anywhere in Tom Paine's crib sheets, but that's my big one."

Miller's not shy about military action. Against Syria, he supports it. Also in Iran, where he says regime change will be an "easier overthrow" than in Iraq. Intervention in Liberia he views as a way of bringing stragglers in the international community back on board. "I think we have to send a few mall cops over, quite frankly. Who's the man in charge over there, Chuck Taylor? Didn't he invent Converse All Stars? It can't be that hard. Let's send some guys over from Nike and Puma."

While he waits for freedom to spread through the Middle East, Miller's ready to see democracy in action in his home state of California. "We've got a $38 billion deficit. I look at the California budget, and I see that we're paying to remove tattoos. It's the petri dish for untethered liberalism. I'm telling you, this place is turning into Sweden. Except, at least there the blondes are authentic." Not only does Miller support the effort to recall the governor, Gray Davis, he's already picked out a candidate: Arnold Schwarzenegger. "I would vote for him, and I would work for Arnold in a second. You know, it's no longer the San Andreas Fault. It's become Gray Davis's fault."

He's got ammunition for other Democrats as well. Sizing up the party's presidential candidates, he says, "I knew Kerry was going to have to run for president because his features are so chiseled, his actual skull could be on Mt. Rushmore. The guy looks like an Easter Island statue in a power tie. Howard Dean can roll up his sleeves in public all he wants, but as long as you can see that heart tattoo with Neville Chamberlain's name on his right forearm, he's never going to get off the pad. I hope they send Howard Dean out to do battle with Bush because he'll get his ass handed to him quicker than someone who just got out of liposuction surgery."

And it's not just leading Democrats who rile Miller, but the party as well, beginning with DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe: "You know, people are looking to buy a way of life here, and McAuliffe looks like he's trying to sell them a used Z28. I think you're talking about 7 out of 10 people are thinking what I'm thinking. They want to be protected. It's fine to talk about health care, but I think most people are thinking they don't want to have to use their health care to get stitched up after they're blown up in a bomb blast by a nut case. They want the nut case killed before that happens. So, in that case, it becomes preemptive health care. As I get older, it seems unsafe to me to be anything but a conservative."

Eric Pfeiffer is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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