Now that we're past the speculation surrounding the choice of Vice President as well as the spectacle of the Democratic Party's exposing their organs of intimacy to the American people as the last act in their ongoing hawking of their carnal services, it's time to realize that due to conditions beyond human control, the Presidential campaign script could be about to undergo an unprecedented change.
With Hurricane Gustav making a beeline towards the Gulf Coast, we are reminded once again that human affairs and plans are like putty in the hands of God and the forces of nature.
That is, barring a sudden change in the storm track that would constitute a miracle in its own right, this coming week will not go as planned for either Presidential campaign and that the Republican plans for our convention are going to have to change.
Regardless of the actual facts of what happened around Katrina, what remains in the collective memory of the American people today are the perceptions that 1) the Federal government was unprepared and incompetent in its management of this disaster, and 2) President Bush was uninvolved.
I'm talking perceptions, here - and the point is not to rehash and critique past events but to observe that this time around, things are going to have to look different. On the preparedness side, things look much better, and as a candidate, John McCain campaign has no finger in that pie anyway.
However, when it comes to showing presence and compassion and connection, John McCain can create the image that will follow him the rest of his campaign (and into the White House if he, as I earnestly hope, wins the vote).
In particular, John McCain has to BE on-site. While there is little he can DO as a candidate, he can still accomplish much by his presence among those who endured the storm, demonstrating physically that he empathizes with their situation. As they say in refereeing, Presence lends conviction. That message will resonate much louder and much longer than any acceptance speech Mr. McCain can make.
Conversely, if John gives the image of ignoring the victims of this storm, then no matter what he might say from a distance, his absence at the scene will cripple McCain's campaign by opening the door to calling him (rightly or wrongly) another Bush as well as charges of neglect, or even worse, partying in the face of suffering ("A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Marie Antoinette...")
You can be sure that if his campaign has any brains behind it, Obama will make changes in his schedule to make appearances in the Gulf area. But where McCain can distinguish himself from his pandering opponent is not just being there too, but rather in the message he brings to those ravaged by the storm - not a cornucopia of promises that government will do everything for them, as though they were helpless dependents, but rather a proud proclamation that he (and the government) will stand by their side to assist as they (with their initiative and pluck) put their lives together. By preaching a message of compassion married with community self-reliance, McCain can highlight the distinctions between the empowering messages of the Republican Party and the castrating messages of a far-left Democratic Party.
The other truth staring the Republican Party in the face is that our convention is not going to happen as planned. Next week will be dominated by news of the storm path and the resultant damage, and many news resources are going to be diverted to the Gulf Coast - not simply from liberal bias (though that may be contributory) but rather due to the exigencies of news coverage. People are just not going to focus as much on the Presidential campaign in the face of weather-related disaster.
Moreover, delaying the convention dates is going to sharply cut into attendance and news coverage simply on the basis of logistics - many people are not going to be able to change their schedules or to be able to change travel arrangements to attend.
Not to mention that if Tropical Storm Hanna intensifies and makes U.S. landfall late next week, weather events will continue to compete with the reassembling of a political convention.
But again, this is where the Republican Party and John McCain have a unique chance to make lemonade from lemons, using these events as a backdrop to sharpen a message of resilience and confidence and competence in the face of the unexpected, competence in the time of challenge, grit and leadership in the hour of need.
In particular I recommend these actions as basis parameters for action:
1) Consider shorten the actual convention to three or even two days. Whether this will entail delaying the dates will depend on the storm timing, intensity, and path. In any case, pare down the public events so that those rising figures key to the party's future get their moment to shine and jettison the rest, the self-indulgent fluff. It's a great opportunity to set a sharp contrast with the Democratic Party. Frankly, most of America is going to have only limited interest beyond hearing the McCain's acceptance speech (and perhaps Palin's speech since she is such a new figure on the national scene). Defining the campaign themes should not (and ought not) to need more than a two-day window.
2) Demonstrate that the Republican Party is aware that serious suffering is happening in the Gulf, navigating carefully between the Scylla of artifice and the Charybdis of appearing oblivious. In their hearts, people understand that life and the campaign must go on: the challenge will be to portray the celebration as enthusiasm for the candidate rather than self-indulgent "fiddling while Rome burns". Nor do we want to emulate the Romanovs just before the Bolshevik revolution (and that is what Obama offers). Make a virtue of the lowered attendance that is certain to ensue.
3) The Party should consider donating some portion of the convention funding towards appropriate private agencies as relief of the hurricane victims in the Gulf. This will tell the world what are the real priorities of the Republican Party and will constitute a far wiser and more effective (not to mention nobler) use of this money.
The bottom line, then, is that rather than whine like liberals about an unfair fate, the Republican Party and John McCain has a unique opportunity to show their grit, to demonstrate the truth of their claims of competence and ability to rise to unexpected challenge, and to shift the tone of the campaign from pie-in-the-sky promises to the surface of planet Earth, demonstrating in tangible detail how Americans can join together, relying upon our individual and collective abilities, to get things done.
(cross posted at And Rightly So!)