Opinion: The convention dilemmas — and opportunities — for George Bush and John McCain


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ST. PAUL — What precisely does an outgoing president tell his party’s national convention about himself that members haven’t already heard several times and still might listen to, even if it’s about the party’s new nominee for president whom the current president doesn’t really get along with all that well and thinks has run an unfocused campaign, although they both need to look like party loyalists without getting too close to or distant from each other because the current president is so unpopular and might hurt the other guy’s chances of becoming the new president, which both understand?

Well, you schedule the old president, who’s actually almost a decade younger than the wannabe president, to speak on the first night of the convention here, along with his popular wife.


And you schedule the new guy to speak on the very last night four days later, to give the most important speech of his career, accepting the party’s nomination and standing with his pretty wife and his ...

... pretty vice presidential running mate and her husband as the red, white and blue balloons tumble from the ceiling with the old president a whole time zone away and probably in bed already, unless there’s a Texas Rangers game on TV.

And then you throw in a massive hurricane named for a guy in Germany, which never gets any hurricanes, and reminds Americans of a female hurricane three years ago that was a natural disaster and, when mishandled, became also a political disaster for the old president. So the new guy’s got to look very different.

While the old president, who’s younger remember, still must show he’s in charge.

What to do?

Frankly, all of it hasn’t been decided yet. The old president’s people are passing word that both the president and vice president will not attend the convention. Although the president’s wife will. So that’s settled.

Which means the president could speak to them by video because he’s busy not mishandling this hurricane. (And that would create some more convenient distance with the older new guy.)

And he could also address the nation wearing his consoler-in-chief hat that he couldn’t find for the first couple of days with Katrina.

And the new guy could go to the windblown area with his running mate and check on preparations and show his concern and differentness from the old guy. This afternoon The Times’ Dan Morain tipped The Ticket that McCain has chartered a DC-9 to fly Mississippi and Louisiana delegates from St. Paul down to Jackson, Miss. tonight.

You could also cancel or alter some or even a large portion of the national convention.

(UPDATE: Moments ago, accordimng to The Times’ Bob Drogin, Sen. McCain said this:

‘We must redirect our efforts from the really celebratory event of the
nomination of president and vice president of our party to acting as all
Americans. We’ll change our program and I’ll be announcing details of it in the next few hours.

‘But there’s very little doubt that we have to go from a party event to a call to the nation for action, action to help our fellow citizens in this time of tragedy and disaster, action in the form of volunteering, donations, reaching out our hands and our hearts and our wallets to the people who are under such great threat from this great natural disaster.

‘I pledge that tomorrow night, and if necessary, throughout our convention, to act as Americans not Republians, because America needs us now no matter whether we are Republican or Democrat.’)

What could be a better televised symbol of the difference between the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates (and maybe even as an added bonus a stark contrast with the self-interested focus of the other party’s party last week in Denver) than to have a dark GOP convention hall, all decorated but void of delegates because the country’s situation is too serious for such frivolities?

And have the Republican delegates in work clothes instead of party duds making up care packages to send to the South instead of making up for all-night parties on the town, which closes up here early anyway.

Maybe turn a potential PR disaster into a dramatic symbol of change with barely seven weeks to go before the balloting. After all, ‘Country First’ is the candidate’s theme.

Then, the nation’s big news from a national convention for the first time in a long time would be that there is no big news.

We do know what President George W. Bush will not talk about, if he talks, even after four straight days of harsh criticism from his opponents in the other party, some of it way out there, but it got their troops cheering.

The current president will not be lighting into the other party or its newly minted presidential nominee.

Why is that, and what will he talk about?

The White House press secretary answered that question. And our blogger colleague James Gerstenzang has the full answer over there at the Countdown to Crawford blog.

— Andrew Malcolm

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