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Gustav's Politics

You might imagine that the worst thing that could happen before this year’s Republican National Convention was a hurricane that threatened New Orleans. After all, President Bush’s popularity never recovered after the way his administration handled Katrina. Republicans want to keep the word “Katrina” out of the news as much as they want to keep the word “surge” in circulation. (As for the word “experience,” well, things recently got complicated on that one.)

John McCain high command was wise to cancel the convention’s first night, for at least three reasons.

First, the news networks were already going wall-to-wall on the hurricane, so the convention would not have gotten much play anyway.

Second, the organizers conveniently solved the problem of what to do about the role of Bush and Vice President Cheney. As my friend Harold Meyerson noted: “Bush and Cheney have an excuse not to attend; they will not rain on McCain's parade. Phew! Close one!”

Third, McCain can now get out the and look thoughtful and concerned, and he can seem ready to act -- even though a single senator has no real control over how relief and recovery efforts will go. McCain is trying to project an image here (no crime in that, it’s what presidential candidates do). He wants voters to see him as very different from the George Bush of three years ago.

I am certain that both McCain and Barack Obama are sincerely worried about the people who live in the Gulf. But please: Let’s can the false piety about the cutting back of the convention showing that McCain or anyone else is “above politics.” Everything done here in St. Paul this week will be carefully calculated for its political impact. Obama will also be calculating the political impact of what he does this week. Both candidates would be crazy not to think about the effect of this storm on the election. Both will be trying to look as if they are handling this situation with strength and sensitivity. And you can be sure there will be a lot of jockeying between these campaigns over who is dealing with Gustav in a more “presidential” way. The same people pushing the line that there’s no politics going on will be the ones playing politics most fiercely.

Already, you can anticipate the politics around the next stage of events. If McCain, but not Obama, were to fly down to the Gulf, the GOP would say this shows McCain’s “leadership,” while his critics would argue, as Paul Krugman does in his New York Times column today, that a McCain visit “wouldn’t do anything to help the area recover” but would “tie up air traffic and disrupt relief efforts.” I imagine that if the roles were reversed, the same arguments would be offered the other way around.

In general, I agree with Krugman’s point, and I write this before knowing either candidate’s plans: I hope neither McCain nor Obama goes down there right away. Let the relief workers do their work. And let’s hope the days after Gustav turn out better for the people of the Gulf than the aftermath of Katrina did.

By E.J. Dionne  | September 1, 2008; 1:35 PM ET
Categories:  Dionne  | Tags:  E.J. Dionne  
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Next: The Palin Pregnancy and the Party Platform


Given that the Republicans have politicized the military, the judiciary and organized religion, it is not surprising that they'll be milking the natural disaster in the Gulf for all it is worth.

But, of course, there will always be storms in life; the larger question is why the good people in Louisiana continue to vote Republican. It is a state that has a GDP that is 24th highest in the nation, but it's people have only the 49th highest median income. That disparity, if properly examined, will go a long way towards turning Louisiana bluer than blue.

And it is an issue for all Americans. Last week, GDP for q2 was up, but so was unemployment and housing foreclosures. At a certain point, we the people, need to determine if the lower and middle classes are to have a fair shake. Clearly, our system is controlled by a corrupt elite and their lobbyist friends. We need to change that.

People need education, health care, and a fair shake. If we don't do the right thing by our people, China will eat our lunch.

Gustav should focus our attention on the shocking disparity between GDP and median income.

Posted by: Deep Blue | September 1, 2008 2:20 PM | Report abuse

We all now know that the real storm for this Republican convention is Sarah Palin's daughter. Had it not been for Karl Rove's machinations, the Palin family could have worked in private through this all-to-common American tragedy. But instead Karl worked in his nasty way, and now a private tragedy is forced into the public.

Posted by: jreed11665 | September 1, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Well your column was earlier then the rest of paper. Sen. McCain has already flown people down and the videos are full of the BS you would expect.

But, in the end if it does help people that is great. The question will be how much will happen after the storm passes and how the relief goes in general.

I suspect, as you stated, that both campaigns will be doing what GWB should be doing now that he did not do during Katrina.

Posted by: jerry rubin | September 1, 2008 4:36 PM | Report abuse

Obama camp is really disappointed there is no video with Bush, Cheney, and McCain at the GOP convention. That is why Obamamaniacs have to focus on the Palin kid who is pregnant.


Democrats are still voting McCain/Palin 2008. Obama threw us Hillary Clinton supporters under the bus a long time ago.


Gustav reminded us about Katrina and Palin reminded us about Hillary. So now we are even. Dems are voting for the woman on the ticket.

Posted by: Grace | September 1, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse


Obama is winning 48-40. And the poll doesn't take into consideration historical turnout among young and black voters.

Obama is winning this thing.

Posted by: Deep Blue | September 1, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I glad that John McCain and George Bush can protect us against a Category 1-2 storm, but I think they were more afraid of the storm they would have created had they both been at the convention together.

My, but they do have a big flag on their convention screen. I am getting flag envy, just as they got column envy (a Freudian slip) at the Denver convention.

Posted by: Bill | September 1, 2008 5:24 PM | Report abuse

"Deep Blue" makes a sharp point that the GOP, under GW, has politicized everything from the military to the judiciary, and it's predictable that it is similarly exploiting a human disaster for political gain. Ironic, considering three years ago the leadership of GW told the devastated people of Louisiana to go to hell. Gustav has rained on the Republicans' parade, such as it would have been. Some of us in the electorate are truly disgusted they are exploiting Gustav's victims for political advantage.

Posted by: cmmacneil | September 1, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Here's an idea: if the candidates really care about what happens to these people, by all means go down and help them out. Just don't tell anyone about it and leave the cameras at home. That'll show who really has character and who's just pandering for votes.

Posted by: Mr. G | September 1, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Gustav reminded us about Katrina and Palin reminded us about Hillary. So now we are even. Dems are voting for the woman on the ticket.

Posted by: Grace | September 1, 2008 4:46 PM

If you are a Democrat Grace - I'll eat my hat.
So this election is just a beauty contest? All you need do to choose the best candidate is to examine their genitals?
Grace you are "the ugly American" that so disgusts the worldwide community.

Posted by: James Moylan An Aussie Friend | September 1, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

E.J., What do we know about how Sen. McCain chose Palin? Sen. McCain claims he knew about these Palin problems prior to the selection, but this claim is starting to strain credulity. If Sen. McCain DID know, then it casts doubt on his judgment for going ahead even though he had other, better, options. If he didn't know, then it raises the question "why not?" Will someone please answer this vital question about this selection?

Posted by: Army Brat | September 1, 2008 7:07 PM | Report abuse

JReed11665 -

Glad to hear that you're on the same side as President-elect Obama regarding the birth or pending birth of a child as a "tragedy."

Posted by: Phil | September 1, 2008 7:53 PM | Report abuse

If Palin gets to claim 'private family matter' while being praised for not aborting the child, dont Elizabeth Edwards/Hilary Clinton deserve the same treatment and praise for keeping their family together?

Reagan had 3 wives. McCain and Gingrich upgraded to trophy wives. Bill Clinton, Obama, Biden, Kennedy, Gore, Lieberman, Kerry one marriage for life.

So how the press overlooks 'Pro Family' and gives the GOP a pass on their self proclaimed 'family values' is beyond me.

Posted by: Mike | September 1, 2008 8:07 PM | Report abuse

Does not Alaska Republican politicians epitomize the Republican party? On the one hand you have Senator Stevens and his big business, big money politics. On the other hand you have Palin, the religious fanatic elected to office. I am an attorney and the US Constitution guarantees us freedom of religion and separation of church and state. I have in recent years called the Republican religious right born-again fascists for their forcing their views down the throats of all other Americans. As a result, if you are not rich or a born again Christian, the rest of Americans are getting screwed reaching its climax under George Bush. If George Bush with his years as governor of a large state like Texas screwed up on a Biblical scale, how can a governor from a state with a population of less than a million and a year and half of experience at that, handle it (what with her family problems also). I am also willing to bet that if we do a Google map search of the town of 9000 where she was mayor, it is no closer to Russia (due to Alaska's size) than New Orleans is to Minneapolis. Does that make the people of Minneapolis experts on hurricanes? Republican logic only serves to energize the "wave the flag, thump the Bible" crowd so successfully used by the the Bush the First and all other Republicans since then. I can also bet that if it was Obama's wife who had had the illegal criminal drug problem that Cindy McCain had the Republican spinners would be portraying Obama's wife as a black crack *****. Watching McCain bragging on CNN about his graduating only 5th from last at Annapolis (spoiled brat of son and grandson of an admiral) only makes more clear the competence of Obama and serving as Editor of the Harvard Law Review. Family Values? Loyalty? McCain dumped his wife who had waited so loyally when he was in a prisoner of war, AS WE HAVE HEARD AGAIN AND AGAIN, when he found young rich girl friend who he dated for months before filing for divorce.

Posted by: roderick seeman | September 1, 2008 8:13 PM | Report abuse

Mike -

Let's see.

1) Reagan only had two wives. Check your facts.
2) Kennedy is on his second wife. Check your facts.
3) Kerry is on his second wife. Check your facts.
4) Lieberman is on his second wife. Check your facts.
5) Learn to spell Mrs. Clinton's first name.
6) To think that the press is going to allow Gov. Palin claim privacy is a joke. Have you seen all the headlines and stories?
7) If Bill Clinton and John Edwards are the epitome of what the Democratic Party sees as strong family values...
8) If you don't think that Gov. Palin should claim her daughter's pregnancy as a private family matter, then I would imagine you didn't give President Clinton the same privilege. Or did you think that was a private matter that the public didn't need to know about?

Family matters such as cheating on your wife who has cancer or the pregnancy of a VP candidate's teenage daughter should not be used as gleeful fodder by political opposition. But such is the society we've built for ourselves. To claim one party is more righteous over the other is ludicrous. Both major political parties have their issues in this respect.

But if you're going to claim the moral high ground, please get your facts correct.

Posted by: Phil | September 1, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

McCain head honcho Schmidt said about Bristol Palin's pregnancy:
"It's a private family matter. Life happens in families," he said. "If people try to politicize this, the American people will be appalled by it. The fact is that the American people, who are decent people, don't appreciate intrusions into the private space of good families."

But Palin and the rest of the stringent pro-life movement want everyone's pregnancy to be a public affair, to be governed by a public law, not personal choice.

Expediency is convenient when covering inconvenient stories: it is do as I say not do as I do.

McCain has changed his colors like chameleon changing his stand on Bush tax cuts and similar points. Anything to please the groups he needs. But that should not be surprising in a man who graduated 894 in a class of 899 and always rejected authority in the navy. - He got his experience for pleasing people when he was navy liaison to Senators and did them all kinds of questionable favors.

How can we trust an inconsistent man who changes his policy to gain a point. Not a man of principle.

Posted by: Gunther Steinberg | September 1, 2008 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Gustuv solved the problem for Republicans about how they were going re-write the script for their convention after the success of the Democratic convention in Denver. What the Democratic convention in general and Obama's speech in particular accomplished was to offer a broad and inclusive vision of leadership for the country that inoculated Obama from the main lines of likely Republican attack by showing how each was trivial and self-indulgent in comparison to the demands of these perilous times.

Republicans talking heads may have said that Obama's speech was just more of the same liberal drivel, but they plainly worried. Obama had struck a positive note of change, put partisan bickering in its place, and given the country a preview of what real leadership feels like. For Republicans to then have gone forward with the convention they had planned (tear Obama limb from limb) would have showed the party to be exactly what Obama said they were -- petty and small at a time that demanded largeness of spirit. The hurricane allowed the GOP to execute a strategic retreat from that disaster.

Posted by: Ted Frier | September 1, 2008 9:12 PM | Report abuse

The hypocrisy of the Republican religious right continues to amaze. The much touted family values are in full display. Palin obviously can't manage her family, so we're asked to trust her with our nation. Can you imagine what the zealots' reactions would be to a teen Obama pregnancy? The cries would be deafening. Also, how'd the abstinence teaching work out in this case?

This ploy of getting Hillary voters should fall flat on its face. Palin and Clinton , other than gynecologically, are polar opposites. For those women who truly care about the issues that Hillary has worked for, this should be a no brainer. However, if you believe the blogs, women are falling for this just like sheep off a cliff.

Posted by: 8isenough | September 1, 2008 9:27 PM | Report abuse

The actions of Palin's daughter are not the fault of Palin -- family values or not. She has no more control over what her daughter does or doesn't do than Obama has control over what the Rev. Wright says or the control I have over what my three sons do (2 in college, 1 in high school).

You can try and teach your kids your values but that doesn't mean they will learn. Palin's daughter getting pregnant says nothing about her family values.

However, knowing the scrutiny and the mud that the media will dredge up about Palin and her family says volumes about both McCain's and Palin's judgments. McCain, demonstrating incompetence akin to Bush, has not run his campaign very well and certainly did a poor job of vetting Palin. One 15-minute conversation is not a complete vetting and it raises anew, the impression McCain has for quick, snap (non-thinking) decisions.

Palin's acceptance to the McCain campaign says two things. One, she's willing to put her daughter through hell in terms of the media, to become VP. And two; with a 5 month old baby, a pregnant daughter and 4 other children (some adults), she's decided that her family doesn't come first. That's a decision she is free to make but it does contradict the Dobsons of the world (Focus on the Family). Maybe the organization should be Focus on the Election and let the family take care of themselves.

Posted by: twm | September 1, 2008 10:22 PM | Report abuse

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