If an opening gavel falls in the forest and no one hears it, will it provide a post- convention bounce?
Hurricane Gustav cast a long shadow over today’s RNC activities. The current meteorological event could only serve to remind everyone of the Bush Administration’s culpability (along with local authorities) in the poor handling of Katrina three years ago. As a result, the events on the first day of the RNC were anything but typical. Since, modern day nominating conventions basically just rubber stamp decisions made weeks, if not months, before by the primary elections, they are mostly ceremonial pep rallies and infomercials. However, operating in a business as usual mode under these current circumstances would be unseemly.
For their part, Barack Obama (here in my state of Michigan) and Joe Biden also avoided being too overtly political while on the campaign trail. Thus, without standard political template, I found myself reacting to the day’s events in stream-of- consciousness mode. To wit:
The planned agenda to kick off the GOP convention was scrapped at the last minute and replaced with a makeshift hurricane telethon that ironically coincided with the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day event for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. I don’t want to say it was surreal, but it certainly boggled the mind to consider the fact that Laura Bush and Cindy McCain were at the podium in St. Paul giving out web site addresses for hurricane relief efforts at almost the same moment as Jerry Lewis was in Vegas singing “Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain.”
More irony. As I posted on my blog last week, Stuart Shepard, who does videos for James Dobson’s “Focus on Family,” prayed for rain to wash out the DNC in Denver; he now claims it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I don’t usually quote scripture, but in the wake of Gustav I couldn’t help but want to remind Shepard of Jesus’ warning that “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” My mental microfiche cross-referenced the Shepard video with a classic Night Gallery episode, “The Caterpillar,” starring Lawrence Harvey. Harvey plays a lecherous character who signs a one-year contract to work on a plantation in Malaysia. The owners of the plantation are a man in his 60s and his beautiful young wife. Harvey falls in love with the wife and hires a local ne’er-do-well to leave an earwig on the plantation owner’s pillow in the hope that the parasite would enter the old man’s ear and burrow lethally into his brain. The scheme goes dreadfully wrong when the Harvey discovers, to his horror, that the earwig is mistakenly left on his pillow.
Not to be outdone in the invocation-of-God department, a YouTube clip of blowhard Michael Moore showed him on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown laughing at the GOP’s storm predicament while suggesting that this proved the Almighty was on the Democrats’ side. Of course, I said the same thing myself earlier. But Moore seemed a bit too glib about it. (I realize that the filmmaker doesn’t speak for the Left as much as he thinks, but please accept my apologies as I digress into a Michael Moore rant. It’s unfathomable to me that Moore gets more attention than a true artist of the documentary genre, Errol Morris. Both men use the format as an outlet for their beliefs, but a Morris film at least tries to give a fair hearing to the other side, thus adding weight to his own thesis. Moore is just a smoke-and-mirrors propagandist who strings together a series of cheap shots to make his case.)
Getting back to the day’s events, and hoping that this doesn’t sound callous: Was an entire day of Gustav coverage and the ongoing levee situation in New Orleans just a little (if you pardon the bad pun) over the top? It was almost as if once the RNC morphed into the above-mentioned charity event, the resources of the broadcast news industrial complex that had been put in place to cover it were re-purposed to cover Gustav. To paraphrase Charlie Foster Kane, “You supply the footage of soaking wet reporters, I’ll supply the disaster.” MSNBC even had an animated 3D hurricane symbol spin across the screen as they broke for commercials. (This is a rhetorical question and more of an observation than a condemnation, and I’m not trying to minimize the trauma for those involved, but: Don’t the major earthquakes that occur in Asia once or twice a year take countless more lives and cause much more property damage? Doesn’t that deserve comparable coverage?)
Returning to the speeches of Laura Bush and Cindy McCain: Ms. Bush is an old pro who handled her part quite well. Flashing marquees blinked the words “Country First…Politics Second.” A large screen behind her displayed an American flag waving in slow motion; because I didn’t realize that this was a projection and thought it was a real flag, the image was off-putting at first. Cindy McCain came on with little fanfare wearing a yellow outfit that (unintentionally, I think) resembled a raincoat. She did okay but didn’t read from the teleprompter as smoothly as Bush.
Scheduled speeches by President Bush and Vice President Cheney were canceled. The cynical side of me can only imagine that this is a political plus for the McCain Team. They can avoid linking McCain with the Bush Administration under the completely reasonable cover that Bush today needs to focus his attention elsewhere.(The president may speak on Tuesday. But that decision won’t be made until sometime today.)
The two other political events unfolded today that could have an adverse affect on the McCain/Palin ticket. First, according to an AP report, “Palin was for the infamous so-called Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it, a change of position that the GOP vice presidential running mate ignored when she bragged about telling Congress ’thanks but no thanks’ to the pork barrel project.”
Ouch. This can’t be helpful.
Second was the revelation that Palin’s 17-year old, unmarried daughter is pregnant with her fiancé’s child. In and of itself, this shouldn’t have any bearing on her qualifications to be Vice President. Obama, to his credit, has even downplayed this as an issue. However, while I can certainly sympathize with a family’s right to privacy, first impressions are lasting impressions (ask Dan Quayle). Fairly or not, Palin’s public persona (sorry for the clumsy alliteration) will start to jell very quickly. Viscerally, this isn’t putting your best foot forward.
As the night wound down, it appeared that the worst fears about Gustav were not going to come true. Citizens were successfully evacuated. The levees seemed to hold. And civil order remained under control. However, on the horizon I heard reports of more bad weather systems scheduled to hit the U.S. in the days ahead. Two of them are Hurricane Hannah and (are you kidding me?) Tropical Storm Ike, as in “I Like Ike.”
Sigh. Maybe Michael Moore was right.
Matt Maul is author of the blog Maul of America.