TAMPA -- Roaming the hallways and riding the shuttle buses at the Republican National Convention offers plenty of opportunity to find out what the attendees are talking about, and what they're not talking about.
Riding the shuttle buses has also afforded enough time to read "The Complete Works of Marcel Proust" and knit an afghan, but that's not what we're here for.
What they are talking about is the economy, unemployment and the deficit. What they're not fretting on is anything even vaguely resembling a social issue. I haven't heard a single word about abortion, in comments addressed to me or in the ones I sneakily soaked up while pretending to be entranced by "Remembrance of Things Past" and murmuring, "Nice one, Marcel. Oh, snap." Ditto guns, gay marriage, birth control and school choice. Even Medicare and Medicaid are issues too abstract to hold the attention of grassroots Republicans this week.
They are saying President Barack Obama had almost four years to get unemployment down, get the economy moving and cut the annual deficit. He didn't do it. They don't like the methods he used to try to do it. They don't think he can ever do it. And they want to replace him.
Also not discussed much, either from the podium or at the concession stand: any past Republican president other than Ronald Reagan. Republicans are looking to the future with a slate of young stars, at least partly because their past leaders are anathema. A short video celebrating the presidencies of the George Bushes was well received Wednesday night, particularly during segments featuring Barbara and Laura Bush. But neither President Bush spoke at the convention, and neither has been given much love by the speakers.
Since the biggest things the duo did were in direct contradiction, you'd think the GOP could happily embrace one or the other. Senior raised taxes and refused to send troops into Baghdad. Junior lowered taxes and launched an occupation of the Iraqi capital so complete it included a Burger King.
Now that's invasion, American-style.
But the father has never been beloved by the party, because he raised those darn taxes and because he lost the White House to Bill Clinton. And it's hard for the party to embrace the son because his policies -- the unfunded spending on Medicare Part D, the tax cuts and the wars -- made America throw up in its collective mouth a little bit, and Romney and Ryan appear to want to pursue much the same path, dialed up to 11. Best not to mention the last guy who did it.
There has also been no tea party experience in Tampa. Before I got here, I thought a pack of dudes dressed up like Samuel Adams, or John Adams, or John Quincy Adams (heck, I'd have settled for Bryan Adams), with tri-corner hats, muskets and signs reading "Don't Tread on Me," was a given, but no dice.
Whether the tea party took over the Republicans or vice versa, the movement has gone establishment. There's nothing left in the party for them to protest.
The last thing missing is buzz. This has been a convention not of fiery devotion to a candidate the party faithful loves, but of determined resistance against a president the party faithful dislikes. And the dislike is far less personal than a few crackpot birthers and conspiracy theorists would lead us to guess. It's the Obama policies attendees rail against, far more than the man. That distaste is enough to fill them with purpose in resolving to work for Mitt Romney, but it isn't enough to consume them with passion. And it's that lack of passion that leaves the most marked impression.
Tomorrow it's on to Charlotte, the Democrats, the shuttle buses and "The Complete Works of Herman Melville."
Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.