Bush: the Newest Four-Letter Word

By Derek Thompson

One of many questions facing organizers of the Republican National Convention was this: In an election about change, how would the GOP reconcile the toxic unpopularity of the president without bashing George W. Bush? The resounding answer: Pretend he’s not there.

George Bush’s name was uttered once—once!—throughout the entire RNC in speeches reviewed by Slate . We crawled the transcripts of the Democratic and Republican conventions to compare how the different parties used the outgoing president’s name in their speeches. The results from the DNC were hardly surprising. In 184 mentions, Democratic speakers tied Bush to the fading economy and the bungled wars of the Middle East. But in more than half those mentions (95) they tied his name, like a political anchor, to Sen. John McCain. If you watched part of the convention, you probably caught the ubiquitous stat that McCain has voted with Bush about 95 percent of the time in the last year. Some variation of that number made 14 appearances last week.

Since the RNC was all about McCain’s maverick streak, the old guard from the White House went into hibernation mode. Dick Cheney’s name was shut out of the conventions while the veep toured Georgia. Condoleezza Rice? Nary a mention. The RNC gave the president his eight minutes from the White House lawn, but he didn’t get much praise from the podium. Three out of the four times the word Bush appears in the speech transcripts, it’s referring to wife Laura. The solitary George Bush mention came from Rudy Guiliani praising the president for his willingness to use the term evil . The overall strategy was clear: The best way to convince voters that John McCain is not George W. Bush was to ignore Bush altogether.

President Bush’s sole mention at the RNC puts him in a strange category. Other figures receiving the one-and-done treatment in St. Paul, Minn., include Al Gore, Hillary Clinton, and Bill Clinton; vanquished Democratic candidates George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and Walter Mondale; and adorable presence/future hair stylist Piper Palin.

Here are the numbers for the RNC:

George Bush: 1 mention

Cheney: 0  

And here is the final tally for the DNC:

Bush: 184 mentions (95 linked to McCain)

Cheney: 20 (19 linked to Bush)

For a fuller analysis of just the speeches by the four candidates, click here .