The Politics of Hurricane Gustav

Remember the good ol' days back when hurricanes were weather events and not political happenings?

That would be defined as pre-Andrew 1992. Andrew slammed into South Florida and displaced a lot of folks and expensive real estate just as the re-election campaign of George Bush 41 was trying to prove to the nation that they could be just as compassionate as challenger Bill Clinton.

Of course, when compassion is defined by how much government money one can give away, Republicans never win the battle. But Bush 41 did a pretty good job, pumping so much government cash into the greater Miami area that the modern day storm clean up industry was birthed and a new government template was set for storms.  Crony contracts will be given to massive contractors who will receive millions and millions of government dollars by hauling away debris, and thus a hurricane becomes a government program waiting to happen. It becomes a political football in the process. The private sector, scared away by ridiculous "anti-gouging" laws, is not the factor it could and should be.

This system continued to grow through the disaster of Katrina, where a city under water by design met a strong storm, just as failures in levee systems resulting from generations of dirty government contracting started to show. Katrina was the perfect storm of a state under corrupt liberal rule for decades and populated by families who were "system families" for generations.

And the party that had been out of power in Louisiana got the blame in large part because a Republican happened to occupy the White House at the time and have the reputation of not being compassionate enough. Desperate to reverse the bad publicity, almost enough government money was poured into New Orleans to pay Halliburton to tear down and re-build the entire city.

So now, with Tropical Storm (and soon to be Hurricane) Gustav zeroing in on the Gulf Coast, the political cross currents are complex. The political fall-out potential is endless, depending on when, where and how hard Gustav hits and how the two Presidential campaigns are able to frame it. Consider the following currents:

Timing: this goes to the Democrats, since the storm will hit during the GOP convention. The Obama campaign and of course Nancy Pelosi can burn a ton of fossil fuels to get down to the storm site and be seen handing out water and batteries while McCain is at a political event. Short of moving the GOP convention to FEMA trailers, this is a big win for Obama.

Jindal: The Gustav factor could play big into the GOP's hands. The residents of Louisiana are well aware of the shortcomings of the Democrats' response to Katrina, and they elected 36 year old conservative Bobby Jindal to take over. You can bet that he will run the show better than Blanco did, and he will of course cooperate fully with the Bush Administration. On the downside, local officials in include Ray Nagin and his band of incompetents.

If Gustav does not hit Louisiana, having GOP governors in Mississippi, Texas, or Florida will certainly guarantee a much smoother state and Federal response. Point to the GOP.

Gas prices: nothing can bring this issue back into focus like a 30 or 40 dollar per barrel rise in oil prices short term. The Democrats have managed to ignore this issue for the most part in Denver. Gustav could bring it back. With the shift in focus of Boone Picken's TV ads giving an assist, this should be a big point for the GOP.

Media Coverage: this never works out so well for the Republicans, and it will not this time either. Regardless of when and where and how hard Gustav hits, you can bet there will be coverage of citizens who slipped through the cracks of assistance. Even with John Edwards unavailable to be on the scene talking Two Americas, this is a point for the Democrats.

Severity: Katrina was a Cat 3 storm by the time she hit New Orleans. This fact is hidden since she was a Cat 5 for much of the two days prior to landfall and since levee failure under a category 3 storm would promote some uncomfortable investigations into the construction of those levees.  The severity, the storm surge, the damage resulting all will affect the politics of the storm. We'll call this an unpredictable wild card.

Location: This is a huge political variable. If it hits New Orleans again, the Katrina memory and misplaced blame on Bush work for the Democrats. Unless, that is, Jindal can emerge so heroically as to contrast to the nation how a state can and should react. Then it could work for the GOP. Mississippi did a much better job of bouncing back without whining compared to Louisiana in 05, and a Mississippi landfall could help the GOP. With Texas, a Houston area hit would be more like New Orleans, especially since the mayor and a good percentage of the system families from the Big Easy now live in Houston. This would favor the Dems. Other parts of the Texas coast, governed by a Republican Governor, would be in a good position to help Bush (and thus McCain) look good. We'll call location a toss up, depending on exact location.

All of which leads to one inescapable conclusion: no matter how terrible a disaster is for its victims (and the prospective victims have my sympathy), crass political ramifications are on their way. Should Gustav change direction or peter out, that would be the best of all possible outcomes. But our computer models aren't exactly dispositive when it comes to hurricanes, so we can only pray.

Properly handled, horrendous situations like a hurricane should bring out the best in government, private enterprise and charitable organizations, and people. Perhaps, if Gustav does hit with hurricane force fury, that can be the case, even in an election year.
Remember the good ol' days back when hurricanes were weather events and not political happenings?

That would be defined as pre-Andrew 1992. Andrew slammed into South Florida and displaced a lot of folks and expensive real estate just as the re-election campaign of George Bush 41 was trying to prove to the nation that they could be just as compassionate as challenger Bill Clinton.

Of course, when compassion is defined by how much government money one can give away, Republicans never win the battle. But Bush 41 did a pretty good job, pumping so much government cash into the greater Miami area that the modern day storm clean up industry was birthed and a new government template was set for storms.  Crony contracts will be given to massive contractors who will receive millions and millions of government dollars by hauling away debris, and thus a hurricane becomes a government program waiting to happen. It becomes a political football in the process. The private sector, scared away by ridiculous "anti-gouging" laws, is not the factor it could and should be.

This system continued to grow through the disaster of Katrina, where a city under water by design met a strong storm, just as failures in levee systems resulting from generations of dirty government contracting started to show. Katrina was the perfect storm of a state under corrupt liberal rule for decades and populated by families who were "system families" for generations.

And the party that had been out of power in Louisiana got the blame in large part because a Republican happened to occupy the White House at the time and have the reputation of not being compassionate enough. Desperate to reverse the bad publicity, almost enough government money was poured into New Orleans to pay Halliburton to tear down and re-build the entire city.

So now, with Tropical Storm (and soon to be Hurricane) Gustav zeroing in on the Gulf Coast, the political cross currents are complex. The political fall-out potential is endless, depending on when, where and how hard Gustav hits and how the two Presidential campaigns are able to frame it. Consider the following currents:

Timing: this goes to the Democrats, since the storm will hit during the GOP convention. The Obama campaign and of course Nancy Pelosi can burn a ton of fossil fuels to get down to the storm site and be seen handing out water and batteries while McCain is at a political event. Short of moving the GOP convention to FEMA trailers, this is a big win for Obama.

Jindal: The Gustav factor could play big into the GOP's hands. The residents of Louisiana are well aware of the shortcomings of the Democrats' response to Katrina, and they elected 36 year old conservative Bobby Jindal to take over. You can bet that he will run the show better than Blanco did, and he will of course cooperate fully with the Bush Administration. On the downside, local officials in include Ray Nagin and his band of incompetents.

If Gustav does not hit Louisiana, having GOP governors in Mississippi, Texas, or Florida will certainly guarantee a much smoother state and Federal response. Point to the GOP.

Gas prices: nothing can bring this issue back into focus like a 30 or 40 dollar per barrel rise in oil prices short term. The Democrats have managed to ignore this issue for the most part in Denver. Gustav could bring it back. With the shift in focus of Boone Picken's TV ads giving an assist, this should be a big point for the GOP.

Media Coverage: this never works out so well for the Republicans, and it will not this time either. Regardless of when and where and how hard Gustav hits, you can bet there will be coverage of citizens who slipped through the cracks of assistance. Even with John Edwards unavailable to be on the scene talking Two Americas, this is a point for the Democrats.

Severity: Katrina was a Cat 3 storm by the time she hit New Orleans. This fact is hidden since she was a Cat 5 for much of the two days prior to landfall and since levee failure under a category 3 storm would promote some uncomfortable investigations into the construction of those levees.  The severity, the storm surge, the damage resulting all will affect the politics of the storm. We'll call this an unpredictable wild card.

Location: This is a huge political variable. If it hits New Orleans again, the Katrina memory and misplaced blame on Bush work for the Democrats. Unless, that is, Jindal can emerge so heroically as to contrast to the nation how a state can and should react. Then it could work for the GOP. Mississippi did a much better job of bouncing back without whining compared to Louisiana in 05, and a Mississippi landfall could help the GOP. With Texas, a Houston area hit would be more like New Orleans, especially since the mayor and a good percentage of the system families from the Big Easy now live in Houston. This would favor the Dems. Other parts of the Texas coast, governed by a Republican Governor, would be in a good position to help Bush (and thus McCain) look good. We'll call location a toss up, depending on exact location.

All of which leads to one inescapable conclusion: no matter how terrible a disaster is for its victims (and the prospective victims have my sympathy), crass political ramifications are on their way. Should Gustav change direction or peter out, that would be the best of all possible outcomes. But our computer models aren't exactly dispositive when it comes to hurricanes, so we can only pray.

Properly handled, horrendous situations like a hurricane should bring out the best in government, private enterprise and charitable organizations, and people. Perhaps, if Gustav does hit with hurricane force fury, that can be the case, even in an election year.