Katrina and Gustav go out on a date

“There’s always a bigger fish”
— Qui-Gon in “Star Wars Episode I — The Phantom Menace”

When I reported from Denver last week that “every convention seems to wind up with an honest-to-goodness juicy sidebar story, event or narrative that somehow rises to the occasion and becomes a kind of subtext for the entire week,” I confess I had no idea about a world-class party-crasher by the name of Gustav.

Decrying the dearth of “real news,” I was sniveling over the coronation aspects of most modern-day conventions, drawing attention to some of the recent sidebars, such as the 1988 Dan Quayle veep surprise, the 1992 Ross Perot dropout, and 2008’s offering: Bill and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push MORE’s long-kiss-goodnight exit strategy. Little did I suspect that not only would another Convention 2008 story emerge, but it would be one that for a while threatened to force the GOP to cancel its convention outright.

As Gustav ominously approached the Gulf Coast, event organizers a thousand miles to the north made the prudent decision to cancel everything on the first day’s schedule except things essential to the formal nominating process — deep-sixing anything that smacked of celebration, fun and — horror of horrors — politics.


Gone from the Monday program: Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vice President Cheney and President Bush himself.

Given the gravity of the storm, I will refrain from surmising that Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainPelosi receives John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award Romney: Trump 'has distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character' MSNBC host: Barr 'the most dangerous person' who works for Trump MORE’s (R-Ariz.) camp regarded the absence of Cheney and Bush as a silver lining.

Still spooked by the ghosts of Katrina, the GOP, with haste and dispatch, totally restructured their opening day schedule to avoid any appearance of insensitivity or callousness while 2 million of their countrymen evacuated from the Gulf Coast and headed inland to safety. The GOP made the correct decision by scaling down the opening day’s program while taking a “wait and see” posture regarding the rest of the week’s activities. It was a prudent response, not an emotional overreaction.

Despite serious lingering concerns about the possibility of breached levees around New Orleans, most news reports indicated that, unlike 2005, all levels of government seemed to be fully engaged, coordinated and ready to deal with whatever nasty punch nature delivered. A huge difference from three years ago when the Bush administration, the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans swept the gold, silver and bronze in the Government Ineptitude Olympics.   

As Gustav approached, not only did everyone seem to be proactively communicating and working together, they actually seemed be thinking first and foremost about the people. What a concept. Of course, “seemed” is the operative word.

But, despite the sober-minded decision-making and the high-minded concern for those affected by the storm, we can forgive any Republican who might violate the spirit of the day and allow one stray political thought to creep in. That being: Katrina’s evil twin was paying a visit at the most awkward of times and might resurrect all those visions of government ineptitude by the current GOP administration just as McCain was trying to make his case for another four years of stellar Republican governance.

Despite weapons of mass destruction and the subsequent troubled occupation of Iraq, it was the emperor-has-no-clothes revelations during and after Katrina that were the beginning of the end of the Bush administration. They provided a rare inside look at the disconnectedness of government and we didn’t like it.

One Republican insider told me last year that she was supporting the Democratic ticket this time around. When I asked her why, she gave me a one-word answer: “Katrina.” Her response was real, visceral, direct.

From the standpoint of media attention we have certainly had an interesting few days. Bill and Hillary’s classy handoff quickly gave way to Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaFeehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Mercury rollback is a direct threat to our children's health Lightfoot takes office as Chicago's first black woman mayor MORE’s (D-Ill.) sensational Invesco Field speech. Then, before Team Obama could finish its victory lap for producing an almost flawless convention, McCain stole the headlines back by shocking the political establishment by naming Sarah Palin as his running mate. There is always a bigger fish of a news story.

Then, just as McCain was glorying in all GOP kudos for his pick, Gustav paid his visit.

Republicans have every reason to be concerned. Being on a first-name basis with Katrina’s evil twin and two straight months talking about another inept federal response could make all the difference in a close race.

You can reach Jim Mills at jmills@thehill.com