Sunday, April 22, 2018

Behind the hoopla, remember politics is all about pain


Politics is about pain. Not the pain you feel when you watch it. The pain felt by the candidates.

They brush it off, laugh it off, shrug it off. But it kills them a little inside.

Presidential candidates are, appearances to the contrary, human. If you prick them, they do bleed.

And if they lose, some never recover.

Keep that in mind as you listen to the brave and wonderful words that will be spoken from podium at the Republican National Convention this week. Loss will not be mentioned here. Not Republican loss anyway.

But politics is so cruel that even winners can lose.

As the delegates converge, it is a good time to consider who will not be here.

George W. Bush will not be here.

"I crawled out of the swamp, and I'm not crawling back in," Bush said in an interview earlier this year.

These are not the words of a man who has felt no pain. Even though he lost only one election in his life — for a House seat when he was 32 — and twice was elected to the governorship of Texas and the presidency of the United States, those years are but a swamp to him.

He is not coming to Tampa and most likely will not be missed. Or even necessarily mentioned. Mitt Romney does not mention Bush in his stump speeches. And during the primaries, the hosannas bestowed by the Republican candidates tended to begin with Abraham Lincoln and end with Ronald Reagan.

George H.W. Bush? He's not coming to Tampa, either. It's as if he and his son have been Photoshopped out of Republican history.

And these guys were winners! Sure George H.W. lost re-election to Bill Clinton, but Clinton was a political wonder. Clinton left office after having had his sexual peccadillos made public, after having admitted lying to his family, friends, Cabinet, Congress, federal investigators and the American people, and after having been impeached.

And he left office with the highest approval rating — 68 percent — of any departing president since Harry Truman.

Clinton will be at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week. He will place Barack Obama's name in nomination and will give a prime time speech virtually guaranteed to draw a huge audience.

Maybe politics was a swamp to Clinton, too, but it was a swamp he liked, a swamp he understood, a swamp where the ooze was like a comfort blanket.

This is important to the current race for president. The last Democratic administration before Obama's was Clinton's. Clinton reigned over a period of rising employment, a rising stock market and prosperity so great it produced a government surplus.

The last Republican administration was George W. Bush's. It is not remembered for happy times. Russ Douhat, a conservative columnist for the New York Times, wrote a few weeks ago that voters are being asked to roll the dice and hand "the White House back to the Republican Party just four years after the Bush administration failed (and then some) to deliver on its promises."

"Romney isn't giving voters any reason to think that he won't just deliver the same disappointing results," Douhat wrote, and a "Republican candidate who won't define himself is a candidate who's easily defined as just another George W. Bush."


So even though George W. Bush twice won the presidency (go argue with the Supreme Court about his first victory), he is seen today, Douhat argues, as a loser, a loser Mitt Romney dare not be associated with.

Which is why you are not going to see him in the convention hall this week.

At every convention, I play a little game. I look around for the man or woman in the worst seat in the hall — usually a lonely seat so far from the stage that the speeches are barely rumors.

One year the man in that seat was George McGovern. McGovern was the Democratic nominee in 1972 and got crushed by Richard Nixon (whose campaign nonetheless felt it necessary to break into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to defeat him).

In 1976, McGovern was not invited to the Democratic convention, nor in 1980. I don't know about 1984, but in 1988, he came. That year, there was a dramatic moment in the Omni convention hall in Atlanta after Michael Dukakis was nominated.

Dukakis invited all the big shots in the party down to the podium to share the stage with him. One by one, they came down until nearly a hundred of them were crowding the stage and waving to the cheering audience.

I went over to a nearly empty patch of the balcony, where George McGovern sat alone.

"Those sons of bitches," McGovern said to me. "There's not one policy I had back then that they don't have now. But now they don't want to know I exist."

Pain. They feel the pain.

Twelve years after McGovern was nominated, the party nominated Walter Mondale, who ended up getting even fewer electoral votes than McGovern did.

After his defeat, Mondale called McGovern and asked him when the pain stopped, when you woke up in the morning and did not feel like throwing up.

"I'll tell you when I get there," McGovern told him.

Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist.

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18