President Who?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, September 4, 2008; 12:12 PM

The Republican National Convention's brief and grudging acknowledgment of George Bush's presidency on Tuesday was, it turns out, generous compared to what was to follow.

Last night, he was roundly ignored. It was like he never existed.

It was almost surreal. Consider, for instance, how Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin lashed out so passionately against "the Washington herd" -- as if it wasn't her own party's leader who's been the chief cowboy these past eight years.

Or consider former presidential candidate Mitt Romney's plea: "We need change all right: change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington," he said. "We have a prescription for every American who wants change in Washington: Throw out the big government liberals and elect John McCain and Sarah Palin."

Here's Democratic strategist Paul Begala on CNN last night: "It seems to me the purpose of this convention tonight is to help us all forget that for eight years George W. Bush has been running the White House; for six of the last eight years, the Republicans have run the House of Representatives; for five of the last eight years, they have run the Senate; and for all of the last eight years, they've run the Supreme Court. They've got seven of the nine justices were appointed by Republicans. So I think this is a terrific try to shift away from the Republican record and try to sort of pretend they're an alien force that somehow is going to come into Washington and change things."

It's not just that Bush is so unpopular that no one wants to be seen with him. It's that any reminder of Bush's presidency undermines the narrative of change that John McCain's campaign is so desperate to communicate.

Perhaps the candidate himself, in his speech tonight, will delineate exactly how his first term would be substantially different from Bush's last two. But on the biggest issues -- Iraq, the economy and health care, among others -- his views appear to be nearly identical to the incumbent's.

And despite the very different -- and compelling -- biographies of the two people leading the ticket, there are growing signs that it is former Bush aides, many of them trained by Karl Rove, who are running the show. Palin's smashing and cutting speech last night, for instance, was written not by Palin herself, but by former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully. And the little-known and politically inchoate Alaska governor is now having her image -- and positions -- defined by a legion of former Bush White House staffers.

The Elephant Not in the Room

Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper write in the New York Times: "Ms. Palin's speech was the big draw of a convention night notable for not a single mention from the stage of the unpopular president, George W. Bush, who addressed the delegates Tuesday via satellite from the White House after the hurricane forced him to cancel his appearance." (Actually, Romney mentioned Bush once, citing him for having "labeled the terror-sponsor states exactly what they are: the axis of evil.")

The New York Times editorial board writes: "The difficulty for the Republican ticket in talking about change and reform and acting like insurgents is that they have been running Washington -- the White House and Congress -- for most of the last eight years."

The Guardian editorial board writes: "Aren't American voters being led too quickly past something on which they should also concentrate and reflect? . . .

"The Republicans may treat Mr Bush as the living dead. Yet what he stands for still animates the party. His trademark social conservatism is theirs too. There have been endless denunciations of abortion this week, but on the first night there was not a word spoken about climate change. The leitmotif of the convention so far has been glorification of the US military, yet the war in Iraq and its conduct have gone wholly unchallenged. Many Republicans are exhausted, yet the truth is they would do it all again. Mr Bush may be an embarrassment to his party now, but too many Republicans, not least Mrs Palin, still remain absolutely in thrall to his views."

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