ST. PAUL–Last night, George W. Bush spoke via satellite to the Republican convention for eight and a half minutes—with his speech timed to finish just before the broadcast networks began their blanket coverage of the ten o’clock prime-time hour.
This doesn’t compare favorably with the treatment that the other two-term presidents of the television age received at their final conventions.
For comparison’s sake, eight and a half minutes also happens to be the length of the above video, which was merely the introduction for Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2000 Democratic convention in Los Angeles. When the Clinton video finished, delegates and television viewers (his tribute was carried in the ten o’clock hour) watched footage of the outgoing president making his way through a long hallway to the convention stage, while his various accomplishments scrolled across the bottom of the screen (this particular effect was only for those in convention hall, not on TV). After finally reaching the podium, and bathing in the crowd’s adulation for a few moments, Clinton delivered a triumphant 41-minute valedictory. In all, the Clinton tribute lasted close to an hour.
In 1988, as Ronald Reagan prepared to leave office, the first night of the party’s New Orleans convention was given over to Gipper nostalgia. The 77-year-old actor-president was first feted with an 18-minute video tribute and then delivered a punchy sentimental farewell to his fellow conservative revolutionaries, closing on a personal note that brought the house down.
"There’s still a lot of brush to clear out at the ranch, fences that need repair, and horses to ride," Reagan said. "But I want you to know that if the fires ever dim, I’ll leave my phone number and address behind just in case you need a foot soldier. Just let me know, and I’ll be there."
Granted, Bush was initially scheduled to address this year’s convention in person, until Hurricane Gustav changed his plans. But had similar scheduling issues popped up in 2000 or in 1988, it’s hard to believe either Clinton or Reagan would have been relegated to such diminished roles when the festivities resumed. That’s the difference between a 60 percent approval rating and one that hovers around 30 percent.