Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hurricane Isaac

Exploiting Hurricane Will Hurt Dems

Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”

Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.

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Yesterday I wrote that the inevitable analogies that will be drawn by the liberal media between Hurricanes Isaac and Katrina are a gift to the Democrats. Just how much the public will make of these specious comparisons has yet to be determined, but one must give those members of President Obama’s cheerleading squad who write the editorials at the New York Times credit for trying. The paper’s lead editorial today was exactly along the lines that I predicted. It pompously claimed the storm “is a powerful reminder both of Republican incompetence in handling Hurricane Katrina seven years ago” and then piled on to the mythology behind that clause by also asserting that the storm also spotlights “the party’s no-less-disastrous plans to further cut emergency-related spending.”

Suffice it to say that seven years later attempts to blame the Katrina disaster solely on President Bush and his party is absurd, since we now know that most of the problems stemmed from the incompetence, if not the moral turpitude, displayed by local and state authorities. The argument that GOP demands that other savings offset more FEMA expenditures is somehow an invitation to catastrophe is just as dishonest. But as much as liberals are chortling at the Republicans’ bad luck with the weather, they need to be careful not to overplay their hand. While the GOP needs to be aware that a potential storm disaster is more important than their gathering, President Obama must be mindful that any actions of his own this week that can be interpreted as trying to make political hay out of a tragedy will backfire.

Though President Bush’s appointees did a terrible job in 2005, it is long past time for liberal organs to stop trying to paint the failure of the levees in New Orleans as a Republican problem or a racist plot. It is equally absurd for the Times to paint battles over the FEMA budget in apocalyptic terms. To paint every dollar expended by the agency as somehow the difference between life and death is mere melodrama, since we know that the federal office is just as capable of inefficiency as it is incompetence. Nor was it improper for Republicans who are mindful of the way President Obama has ballooned the federal deficit in a way that makes Bush’s profligacy look like prudence to ask that any overspending by FEMA (which they were prepared to approve) be paid for by cuts in less essential programs that are liberal sacred cows.

Nevertheless, there’s little doubt that the bad timing of the storm and the attempts by liberals to wave the bloody shirt of Katrina won’t help Mitt Romney’s cause. It should also be specified that if federal authorities are seen to be doing their jobs in an appropriate manner during any relief operations in the Gulf it will be a boost for President Obama, who will be viewed as doing his job effectively.

However, the president needs to be careful about playing commander-in-chief in ways that are tangential or even a distraction from the real business of helping people. As President Bush noted in his memoirs, he waited to fly into New Orleans after the hurricane because he knew that a presidential visit with all of the attendant security and logistical complications that it would cause was the last thing the devastated area needed. The same standard would apply to any superfluous Obama fly-in to the storm areas this week. Once the crisis is over, a presidential visit is appropriate as a gesture of solidarity with those affected. But if President Obama seeks to use an unnecessary piece of stagecraft in the upcoming days merely to upstage the GOP convention or Mitt Romney’s acceptance of his nomination, it won’t do him or his party any good.

Americans are smart enough to know the difference between proper supervision of a crisis and political photo-ops. If the president opts for the latter, his fans at the Times and elsewhere, who are now barely containing their mirth at the GOP’s predicament, will be laughing out of the other sides of their mouths.

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Shows Go On, Despite Isaac

Both Romney and Obama are moving ahead with their scheduled campaign plans for the week, despite the storm set to hit the Gulf Coast early tomorrow morning, CNS News reports:

The White House announced on Monday that President Barack Obama plans to campaign in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday–the day the National Hurricane Center predicts Hurricane Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, is also the seventh anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in 2005.

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Both Romney and Obama are moving ahead with their scheduled campaign plans for the week, despite the storm set to hit the Gulf Coast early tomorrow morning, CNS News reports:

The White House announced on Monday that President Barack Obama plans to campaign in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday–the day the National Hurricane Center predicts Hurricane Isaac will hit the Gulf Coast.

Wednesday, Aug. 29, is also the seventh anniversary of the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Those who say the GOP should cancel the convention at this point are either delusional or acting in bad faith. Anyone can see that Republicans have no choice but to forge ahead. The entire Party is in Tampa, the convention is paid for, and the show has to go on. They couldn’t bump it back even if they wanted to — the Democratic convention is right on their heels.

Obama, on the other hand, can cancel his campaigning and jet to New Orleans if the hurricane is significant. It would be a presidential moment, and would surely draw attention away from the RNC. Republicans wouldn’t object — you can’t criticize a president for showboating because he’s rushing to a disaster scene.

The National Hurricane Center is still designating Isaac as a Tropical Storm, but the upgrade is expected soon, according to its website:

…RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT FIND ISAAC NEARLY A HURRICANE… SIGNIFICANT STORM SURGE AND FRESHWATER FLOOD THREAT TO THE NORTHERN GULF COAST… …U.S. Warnings in Effect…

All the GOP can do is hope for the best.

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Isaac-Katrina Analogies Are Gift to Dems

The danger posed by Hurricane Isaac to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico may soon overtake the Republican National Convention as the top story of the week. The troubles of the GOP are rightly overshadowed by the potential for loss of life and property in the states bordering the Gulf. But while Republicans must sit back and watch and pray along with the rest of the country that the disaster is not as great as some fear, they will also be watching for liberal attempt to rehash the aftermath of the last big hurricane to pound New Orleans. While some in the party are grousing about the way the choice of a Florida city during the season of tropical storms has played havoc with the convention schedule, what they really ought to be worried about is the way the media will use the hurricane to rehearse the alleged sins of George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Though the post-invasion mess in Iraq is still thought of as the George W. Bush administration’s worst problem, the true turning point during his second term was what happened after the levees failed in New Orleans. Bush is staying away from Tampa, allowing Mitt Romney his week of glory without any reminders of his unpopular Republican predecessor. But courtesy of Isaac, the networks and cable TV channels are going to be able to put the 43rd president back in the public eye. More than the Democrats’ unseemly attempts at political guerrilla warfare in Tampa, any media hyping of the Isaac-Katrina analogy will be both a distraction from the GOP convention narrative and a way to bludgeon the Republicans by digging up the canards hurled at Bush back in 2005.

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The danger posed by Hurricane Isaac to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico may soon overtake the Republican National Convention as the top story of the week. The troubles of the GOP are rightly overshadowed by the potential for loss of life and property in the states bordering the Gulf. But while Republicans must sit back and watch and pray along with the rest of the country that the disaster is not as great as some fear, they will also be watching for liberal attempt to rehash the aftermath of the last big hurricane to pound New Orleans. While some in the party are grousing about the way the choice of a Florida city during the season of tropical storms has played havoc with the convention schedule, what they really ought to be worried about is the way the media will use the hurricane to rehearse the alleged sins of George W. Bush during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Though the post-invasion mess in Iraq is still thought of as the George W. Bush administration’s worst problem, the true turning point during his second term was what happened after the levees failed in New Orleans. Bush is staying away from Tampa, allowing Mitt Romney his week of glory without any reminders of his unpopular Republican predecessor. But courtesy of Isaac, the networks and cable TV channels are going to be able to put the 43rd president back in the public eye. More than the Democrats’ unseemly attempts at political guerrilla warfare in Tampa, any media hyping of the Isaac-Katrina analogy will be both a distraction from the GOP convention narrative and a way to bludgeon the Republicans by digging up the canards hurled at Bush back in 2005.

Bush never really recovered from the widespread impression that his appointees were not on top of the crisis and the publicized delays in getting federal help to the stricken city. The collapse of local authority, the way first responders fled and the abdication of responsibility by both the city and state of Louisiana had far more to do with the crisis than anything the federal government did. But it was Bush who got the lion’s share of the blame. The plight of the poor refugees in the Superdome wasn’t merely put on his shoulders but falsely asserted as proof of administration racism.

Should President Obama decide to arrive on the scene of any flooding or damage this week, it will not merely upstage the GOP infomercial. It will also be a not-so-subtle reinforcement of his recurring campaign theme in which he blames everything that’s wrong with the country on his predecessor.

Hurricane Isaac won’t fix the country’s economy or lower unemployment, which are the real obstacles to the president’s re-election. But the timing and the path of the storm may provide the Democrats with an unexpected bonus of campaign fodder that could undermine any GOP hopes for a post-convention bounce. And there’s absolutely nothing the Republicans can do about it except pray that the hurricane proves to be a minor annoyance to the Gulf rather than a full-scale disaster. Residents of the coastal region, both Democrats and Republicans, will be praying along with them.

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Don’t Count on a Convention Bounce

One of the standing assumptions of most political pundits is that each party will emerge from its national convention these next two weeks with a “bump” in the poll numbers for their candidates. Gallup reports that the post convention fluctuations in its survey numbers give candidates a typical bounce of about five percentage points. Given the close nature of the current presidential contest and the fact that he has been trailing President Obama all year, Mitt Romney would certainly be happy with that kind of boost. It would be enough to put him into the lead at a time when he needs a momentum change.

But while pundits are also cautioning both the candidates and their supporters to remember that convention bounces tend to flatten out by the time the voters have their say in November, there are good reasons to believe the traditional bump may not be as strong in 2012 as it has been in the past.

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One of the standing assumptions of most political pundits is that each party will emerge from its national convention these next two weeks with a “bump” in the poll numbers for their candidates. Gallup reports that the post convention fluctuations in its survey numbers give candidates a typical bounce of about five percentage points. Given the close nature of the current presidential contest and the fact that he has been trailing President Obama all year, Mitt Romney would certainly be happy with that kind of boost. It would be enough to put him into the lead at a time when he needs a momentum change.

But while pundits are also cautioning both the candidates and their supporters to remember that convention bounces tend to flatten out by the time the voters have their say in November, there are good reasons to believe the traditional bump may not be as strong in 2012 as it has been in the past.

The willingness of Democrats to junk tradition and step up their attacks during their opponents’ convention may be another indication of the administration’s determination to adopt any tactic or smear if it will help the president’s re-election. But it could be a stroke of strategic genius if it alters the monochromatic nature of the political conversation during a convention week and neuters Romney’s bounce. Hurricane Isaac, especially if it turns out to be worse than expected, could also divert the country from the Romney pep rally and diminish its significance. Just as important is the possibility that viewership for the scripted infomercials staged by both parties won’t generate as much interest as in the past and therefore mean a smaller impact on the polls.

Any bounce, no matter how small, that leaves Romney in the lead rather than trailing Obama, as he has all year, would be crucial. Though Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate energized Republicans and demonstrated a willingness to emphasize the differences between the parties, the last month was bookended by problems. The media-driven claim that his foreign trip was undermined by gaffes both real (the Olympics) and imaginary (Palestinian culture) didn’t help him. Even worse, the week before the convention was marred by the Todd Akin fiasco, a gift to the Democrats that may keep on giving all fall. If two weeks from now, Romney has evened the small gap between himself and the president or taken a tiny lead, it will have been a major achievement and could put him on track for a November victory.

But if the media spends the coming week devoting a lot of attention to Democratic guerilla warfare in Tampa, it could alter the traditional equation that produces convention bounces. Traditionally, the opposition stays quiet during their rivals’ convention week, allowing each side to portray their candidate and party without too much contradiction. But if the Democratic plan to trash courtesy succeeds, it cannot but help depress the bounce. Even if the GOP retaliates the following week in Charlotte — a trick that won’t be as easy without the cooperation of the mainstream media that the Democrats may receive in Tampa — the result will still be to Romney’s disadvantage.

The hurricane may be another piece of bad luck for the Republicans. The cancellation of the first night of the convention isn’t catastrophic but if Isaac inflicts terrible damage on Florida, it will be true disaster for the GOP since it will mean the party won’t have a monopoly on the media in the coming days.

But hovering above all of these factors is something that pundits and political junkies tend to forget: the conventions are no longer the greatest political show on earth and the public knows it. The party conventions were once great colorful dramas where real decisions were made both on the floor and in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms elsewhere. That changed a long time ago, but its impact on the public’s interest in them may be finally catching up to that reality because of the way the media has been transformed in the last two decades. The broadcast networks are limiting their coverage this year to three prime-time hours each and the parties should think themselves lucky to get that much. In 2008, the debut of Sarah Palin and the historical nature of Barack Obama’s acceptance of his party’s nomination riveted the nation but there will be no such drama this year.

As John noted on Friday, Romney’s acceptance speech will be more closely watched than Obama’s a week later, but the assumption that the whole nation will be riveted by it or any such address may not be justified anymore. All that may add up to a situation where the crucial question may not be how long the post convention bounce lasts but why it never happened. If so, it won’t be good news for Mitt Romney.

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