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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The benefits of a disaster

Published: September 5, 2008
Section: Opinions

In a political season riddled with many surprises, it seems almost typical that a natural disaster would interrupt one of the most critical moments of the political campaign. This week was supposed to be John McCain’s chance to make his case to the country that he stands for the right kind of change and that Senator Obama is simply not experienced enough to be put in charge of the country. However, Hurricane Gustav would not defer to the GOP convention and made landfall the same day as the convention’s opening. This strange and unprecedented turn of events posed the question: Would it hurt McCain’s campaign? After all, the Republicans now had less time to introduce the largely unknown Governor Palin on their own terms and to re-introduce Senator McCain as the true agent of change. However, when one takes a second look at the situation, John McCain’s presidential campaign may actually have benefited from this disaster. President Bush’s absence from the convention, Governor Palin’s buffer in the news, and McCain’s dropping of the partisan hat will more than likely benefit the Republican campaign in ways that a perfectly executed Convention would have not.

The appearance of President Bush and Vice President Cheney at the Republican National Convention was expected to be awkward at best. The McCain campaign has spent the entirety of the summer attempting to distance itself from the highly unpopular president, so his appearance at McCain’s nomination convention would not have played over well, not to mention the appearance of the arguably even more unpopular Vice President. Due to the hurricane though, President Bush had his attention turned from the Twin Cities to the Big Easy. Monday no longer had to serve as a reminder that Senator McCain and President Bush were in the same political party. The only appearance from the President was a short ten-minute speech Tuesday, which was not even from within the convention. More importantly, the hurricane has given President Bush a chance to redeem himself for the largest failure during his eight years as president and redeem himself he has. The situation in the Gulf was handled very well on all levels of the government. In fact by the Tuesday morning following the hurricane’s landfall the average price of gasoline had fallen to $3.68 per gallon– much better than had been predicted. Bush’s smooth handling of the hurricane could potentially aid Senator McCain in a way that many would not have expected; it could raise President Bush’s approval rating prior to the election.

Early on Friday, it appeared that McCain’s surprise choice for the Republican VP nominee would dominate the news until the convention, however, after Saturday morning, the news seemed to fade in the approach of Hurricane Gustav. The hurricane acted as a buffer to the negative news that plagued the Governor during the past week. The news of Governor Palin’s hiring of an attorney for the “troopergate” investigation, the story of Palin’s husband’s DUI arrest twenty years ago, and the news of the Governor getting booed this past Saturday at a rally when mentioning Hillary Clinton has been largely buried by the more pressing story concerning Hurricane Gustav. The only negative story to truly survive the hurricane was the pregnancy of Governor Palin’s teenage daughter and it will probably have little influence on the race, unless Campbell Brown continues trying to exploit it. The blow of this negative news to the McCain Campaign was substantially softened by the media’s focus on Hurricane Gustav.

Senator McCain himself has also come out of this situation in a very positive light. Many Republicans feared that Senator McCain’s acceptance speech would pale in comparison to the grandiose acceptance speech delivered by Senator Obama, which was made to about 84,000 supporters in an outdoor stadium under fireworks and a torrent of ticker tape. However, due to McCain’s order to change the tone of this convention, the candidates’ convention speeches can no longer be held side by side as equals and any potential criticism of McCain’s lack of energy as compared to Obama’s speech is no longer be valid. Secondly and more importantly, Senator McCain took off his partisan hat this week, ordering the Convention to convene for essential business only and demanded that there be no partisan rhetoric for the opening day. This situation gave McCain a chance to put his slogan of “country first” to the test and he followed through on his promise. He selflessly gave up a day of promoting his own presidential bid and attacking that of Senator Obama and instead had delegates prepare relief packages for those affected by the storm. Senator McCain himself went down to Mississippi prior to the storm’s approach and was debriefed on the state of the emergency relief situation. McCain’s speedy, responsible, and selfless response highlights another notable difference between himself and the unpopular President, who many associate with his slow and careless response to Hurricane Katrina.

Last week Senator Obama attacked Senator McCain in his acceptance speech for implying that Obama did not put the country first. The Democratic presidential nominee also harshly criticized the President for his careless inaction during the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. So on Monday while Senator McCain and his supporters were selflessly rallying to relieve those affected by the storm and President Bush was working to lead the relief effort in the Gulf, where were Senator Obama and Senator Biden? Well, Senator Obama was selflessly campaigning in the battleground states of Wisconsin and Michigan and Senator Biden used his time in Scranton Pennsylvania to criticize Senator McCain. If any Republicans feared that this unfortunate disaster would dampen the effects of the Republican Convention, they need not worry- this convention may have achieved greater acclaim than it would have had the Convention gone off without a hitch.