On Labor Day, the right rallied around Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" gag, the controversial showstopper at the Republican Convention, to spawn National Empty Chair Day, an annual event. The people planning to celebrate this event (assuming they exist) obviously 1) have no life; 2) are political zealots; or 3) are paid operatives.
In case you missed Eastwood's appearance (which means your computer and TV are down, your power is out, or you're totally engrossed in Snooki's baby), the actor rocked the podium with his vaudeville-style chat with President Obama, represented by an empty chair.
Meanwhile, no one seemed to notice the other "empty chair" in Tampa -- the one where President George W. Bush should have been sitting.
President Bush (who calls himself "43") was conspicuously absent from his party's convention, his name and record barely mentioned, his eight-year term of office obscured by a collective stroke of politically-motivated amnesia.
And there were more "empty chairs."
Shockingly, the party's elder statesman, President George H. W. Bush (AKA "41"), was also missing. His empty seat was a poignant gap, given his advanced age and stature, and the wide respect he has gained for public service in recent years.
And there were others -- seats that would have been occupied by former Bush administration officials and members of the family (appearances by Condoleeza Rice and Jeb Bush notwithstanding).
For example, former Vice President Dick Cheney, the influential NeoCon and trusted Bush adviser, did not grace the podium.
George W. Bush's mother -- the white-haired Grand Dame of the Republican Party, First Lady Barbara Bush -- was nowhere to be seen.
In this context, Eastwood's rogue "empty chair" monologue was more than a cheap shot heard 'round the world, or a nod to the party's libertarian fringe (i.e., the free marketeers, credit default swappers, Cayman Island shirkers, assault rifle-toting vigilantes and backwater swamp rats who have cuddled up with family values conservatives under the GOP tent).
As with the entire convention, Eastwood's gag dramatically (and some would say brilliantly) turned the spotlight on Obama, while deflecting attention from the president who was missing. After all, Eastwood "talked" to Barack Obama.
No one talked to Bush.
Republican strategists closeted the 43rd president, even while rolling out a platform that could be called Bush 2.0 And Beyond: deeper tax cuts for the richest Americans, diplomatic threats foretelling foreign wars yet unborn, and repackaged compassionate conservatism (symbolized by Paul Ryan's big heart and Mitt Romney's good deeds).
Has a U.S. political party ever so thoroughly expunged a president from its collective memory? Probably not. Yet history holds countless examples of "memory-engineering" in totalitarian states, where history is doctored for political purposes, unfavorable facts are deleted or changed at whim and TV programs are crammed with propaganda.
Bush's "empty chair" (and the glaring absence of most everyone associated with him) is a chilling reminder that U.S. politics is creeping down the same road. The GOP gave us a media-manufactured whitewash of "reality" that didn't pass the smell test. There is little hope that the Democratic convention will aspire to anything higher.
As for truth -- in American political discourse, that's the real empty chair.
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