Sunday, August 31, 2008

The political implications of Gustav

The human implications of this monster hurricane are immense -- 80 people have already died in the Carribean -- but we will stick to the political implications here. First, most people living far from the Gulf Coast have already forgotten Katrina and Rita; this will remind them. The media will no doubt trot out all the photos of a happy President Bush in sunny Arizona ignoring the drowning city because he was too busy celebrating John McCain's 69th birthday. In case they forget, here is the photo from the official White House website.

Second, if the storm hits Tuesday, it will be smack in the middle of the Republican National Convention. Normally, that would be the only news story of the week, but it will have to compete with news of drowning people on the Gulf Coast. This diverts attention from the Republican's message of national security and focuses everyone on domestic affairs, such as the government's role in helping people. The Republicans core message of low taxes and less government may not go over so well juxtaposed with photos of old people on their roofs pleading for help from the government while the Republicans are busy saying that free markets solve problems far better than government bureaucrats. Heck-of-a-Job Brownie may get another 15 minutes of fame.

Third, depending on the actual path the storm takes, it could hit oil rigs and refineries. Heaven forbid there is an accident that causes an oil spill. That would remind people of why the Democrats oppose off-shore drilling. On the other hand, if there are no accidents, the Republicans will say: "If off-shore oil rigs can withstand this, they can withstand anything." In any event, rigs and refineries are likely to shut down, reducing the supply and driving up gas prices in the next few months, something that will remind the voters of the economy, in case they had forgotten.

Fourth, under federal law, the person in charge of handling natural disasters in a state is the governor. He can call up the National Guard, ask for federal help, or whatever he wants, but he's the boss. The governor of Louisiana is now a Republican, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal. Last time around, the botched response was coordinated by a Democrat, Kathleen Blanco. If Jindal does a great job and the evacuation goes smoothly, help arrives on time, and nobody dies, the Republicans will be crowing about their management skills and that the real problem last time was that a Democrat was running the show. However, Jindal is only 37 and has been governor for scarcely 8 months, even less time than the Republican vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin. If Jindal messes up, the Democrats will be saying: "It's more of the same." To say that McCain's political fortunes rest on Jindal's ability to cope with disasters is not entirely true, but it will be a big factor. Unlike Blanco last time, Jindal is surely fully aware of what is about to happen and the potential consequences of failing to handle it.

John McCain's been saying his prayers, but if I were a Christian I would be tempted to say -- especially after we witness the damage of an 18-25 storm surge where the levees are 9-13 feet -- that God doesn't care what John McCain wants.

And if Gustav had hit a week earlier, we would no doubt have heard a few Republican pastors proclaiming that God was delivering His Retribution to the Democrats, indeed the United States, for supporting the evils of abortion, homosexuality, etc.

I doubt we will hear any of that "God is punishing us because of the GOP" from any pastors on either side this week. More, with my bold emphasis:

For better or worse, all five potentially affected states have Republican governors: Rick Perry in Texas, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana, Haley Barbour in Mississippi, Bob Riley in Alabama, and Charlie Crist in Florida. If they do a good job getting help where it is needed, they will get the credit; if they don't they will get the blame. It is likely that all of them will skip the convention and stay home. In an odd way, the hurricane might actually have a silver lining for the Republicans. The Democrats spent all of last week yelling: "McCain is Bush III." Having Bush speak at the convention, as scheduled reinforces their point. However McCain could hardly have told Bush to stay home since that would infuriate the 30% of the country that still supports him. Enter St. Gustav stage left. McCain could now announce that much as he wants Bush to speak at his convention, for the good of the country, Bush should go tour the Gulf Coast to help the poor people there. This solves two problems: keeping Bush away from Minnesota without McCain getting blamed for it and having Bush appear to be on top of the situation at the hurricane site in an attempt to wipe out the bad memories of his doing nothing when Katrina struck.

So when Karl Rove says that the Republicans can't catch a break with the weather in August, he's just being a stupid asshole again.

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