What can be learned from all of the absences?
It is hard to imagine a Democratic Convention these days without former president Bill Clinton playing a prominent role. Clinton seemed totally in his element when addressing his fellow democratic delegates two weeks ago in Charlotte, North Carolina. The former president’s nearly hour long speech made it clear that he can make a compelling case for President Obama’s reelection. Once seen as a potential distraction to the Obama administration, Clinton is now more popular than ever before, and has become quite the asset to President Obama’s reelection hopes.
The same though cannot be said for most of the former Republican luminaries. Rather unusually (historically speaking), and very conspicuously, The Republicans held their national convention without either of its two living former presidents attending.
Of the two men, former president George H.W Bush’s absence is most easily excused. The elder Bush had been in increasingly poor health in recent months, so it is understandable that he would not feel up to traveling these days. His son’s absence however is another matter.
As the last Republican to be president, it would seem only logical that George W. Bush would speak at the 2012 Republican National Convention. But to the relief of current Republican officeholders nationwide, it appears that George W. Bush has retired from making public appearances.
Even if George W. Bush had volunteered to speak at the convention he would have undoubtedly been told to stay home. George W. Bush is still so universally unpopular that the current Republican nominee for president, Mitt Romney, (following John McCain’s lead in 2008) is loath to even utter Bush’s name publically.
The previous two Republican vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and Sarah Palin were also conspicuously absent at the Republican convention. When asked why he would not be attending the convention, Cheney replied that he had an important fishing trip planned (I’m not kidding about that!) While Sarah Palin responded that she would be too busy observing Russian troop movements from her kitchen window (ok now I am!).
Despite the fact that many Americans dislike Cheney and Palin, they still would have been positively received at a convention full of ardent Republicans. Both Cheney and Palin are capable of energizing the Republican base. So why were they too missing at the convention?
The lack of past party leadership at the convention was an attempt by the Republicans to make it appear as though they were moving away from their party’s failures of the previous decade. The Republicans hoped that by introducing viewers to a new generation of Republican faces, those same voters might just forget about the string of embarrassments the Palin’s, Cheney’s, and Bush’s of the world brought to the party.
But if someone thought that by making sure those polarizing politicians were nowhere to be found that the Republicans were making a clean break from their political past, that someone would be dead wrong.
My next blog post will prove rather conclusively, I think, that while the current Republican leadership is willing to replace those that once represented the party, it is still unwilling to replace the policies that continue to alienate many independent minded Americans.