Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hurricanes and Second Chances

By Theo Caldwell in Minneapolis

Michael Moore may be on to something. With Hurricane Gustav approaching America’s Gulf Coast just as the Republican National Convention begins here in Minneapolis, the left-wing filmmaker mused, “I was just thinking, this Gustav is proof that there is a God in heaven. To have it planned at the same time – that it would actually be on its way to New Orleans for day one of the Republican Convention, up in the Twin Cities – at the top of the Mississippi River.”

Moore’s sentiment was echoed by former National Chairman of the Democratic National Committee Don Fowler who, laughing about the timing of the storm and the RNC’s opening, said, “That just demonstrates God’s on our side. Everything’s cool.”

Now, I cannot tell you which party God supports, and I admire the supreme confidence of a fellow who thinks he can. But I believe God has a lot to do with redemption.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast region, devastating the city of New Orleans. Relief efforts were clumsy and ineffective, and remain the source of anger for many people across America.

Modern shorthand calls the federal government's response to Katrina a case study in Republican heartlessness. At the Democratic Party's national convention in Denver last week, Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden both reminisced about this ugly chapter, accusing the Bush administration of sitting on their hands while Americans were suffering. But the failure was caused less by indifference than by incompetence. Billions of dollars were spent, and are still being spent, to soften the blow of that storm. Massive spending is no substitute for good judgment, however.

The response to Katrina was, like a lot of government programs, an enterprise full of sound and fury, accomplishing nothing. Now, with Gustav touching land, the Republican Party is eager to show they have learned their lesson.

Wherever you go in this city, you cannot get far without being asked by some Republican outfit for a donation for the victims of the storm. It is fair to ask which victims they have in mind, or how the funds will be distributed, since the mass solicitations began before Gustav had made landfall. But the fact remains that these folks are genuinely concerned for their countrymen and they feel a responsibility to help in some way.

From a political perspective, the hurricane caused President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to cancel their scheduled appearances on the convention’s opening night. This relieves Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of the sticky quandary of having to give speaking time to a vastly unpopular president from his own party, with whom he must contrast himself if he hopes to win the election.

McCain’s campaign may see this as providential. One believes and hopes that the response to Gustav will be more effective than it was to Katrina, and prayers are being said for those in the storm’s path. Republicans from the top of the party to the rank and file have focused their efforts on helping those in need. Perhaps God has taken a hand in these events, but not in the way Moore and Fowler suppose.