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Analysis: GOP convention marked by nostalgia

  • Story Highlights
  • Speeches by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush fail to mention economy
  • Tributes hailed past GOP presidents and deceased Republican leaders
  • Fred Thompson's passionate speech rendered him 'a man transformed'
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By Rebecca Sinderbrand
CNN Political Unit
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ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) -- The first full night of the Republican convention's hurricane-interrupted proceedings had the unintentional feel of a valedictory.

McCain is "an independent man who thinks for himself," Bush said Tuesday night.

Fred Thompson on Tuesday night lauded John McCain's career as a naval officer and politician.

Speeches by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, which failed to mention administration achievements on the top issue of the cycle -- the economy -- seemed airlifted out of 2004.

The hagiographic series of video tributes to Republican presidents past, from Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, contributed to the impression of a nostalgia-fueled convention.

On a night devoted to service, convention planners managed to make time for a special "Tribute to Deceased Republican Leaders." Missing, however, were prime-time speakers with any new policy proposals to encourage Americans to serve their country today.

President Bush was treated as a leader in exile -- allotted just six minutes on the schedule and beamed in via satellite from halfway across the country. But if the party's current leader was a footnote in the proceedings, embattled presumptive vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as much a rallying cry as a candidate, was at their center.

The most recent CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll found Republicans remain far less united than Democrats. But the party of Richard M. Nixon has always been able to come together over a visceral hatred of the media and other elites.

Besides drawing on the persecution factor, the Palin talking points of the week have been aimed at bolstering the Alaska governor's commander-in-chief credentials. Viewers were reminded that she'd run a municipality and the largest state in the union. The fact that her city had fewer than 10,000 residents, and her state one of the lowest populations in the nation, made it seem speakers were damning McCain's running mate with fatuous praise. CNN's political team weighs in on McCain, Palin

Fred Thompson was a man transformed -- his speech more passionate than any he'd given on his own behalf during his failed presidential bid earlier this year. But the official star of the evening was this year's disaffected former Democrat, Joe Lieberman.

The Connecticut senator may be a man without a party, but he's no Zell Miller, who blasted his party in front of the last Republican gathering four years ago. Lieberman only half-heartedly slammed Obama and lauded Palin -- he's temperamentally unsuited to the role of attack dog.

Where Miller demonstrated concentrated rage, Lieberman, the Democratic Party's 2000 vice presidential nominee, reflected earnest wistfulness.

If McCain fails to capture the White House in November and Democrats pad their Senate majority as polls seem to predict, Tuesday might have marked Lieberman's swan song as a member of his former party's caucus and his debut as a political sideshow, his previous starring night at a nominating convention eight years and a lifetime ago.

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And in one other respect, at least, the Republican Party of 2008 has entered another era. The party's driving passion in 2000 was a visceral hatred of the 42nd president -- the convention hall rang with the chant "It's time for them to go!"

This year, Lieberman's praise of Bill Clinton drew cheers and applause.

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