9/13/2008

Hurricane Politics

One of the most memorable sayings I've learned this campaign season is Tom Brokaw's UFO theory, which stands for "unforeseen occurrences" and shows why it's foolish to make long term political predictions. The political landscape can change in an instant, and these changes are often totally outside the control of political candidates and their campaigns.

This week Hurricane Ike provided the latest reminder of the fluidity of politics. In addition to causing billions of dollars of damage and displacing thousands of residents, it reset the political dialogue and may have pushed a few policy proposals either to the forefront or the fringes.

As I briefly mentioned over at The 9th Frame, one of the main results of Hurricane Ike is that it pushed politics off center stage. The dominant political storyline this week continued to be Sarah Palin. John McCain had to be thrilled with this because anytime Palin dominates the news, that means the economy, George Bush, and Iraq are going unmentioned. Barack Obama and his campaign did not know how to attack her effectively and the cable news shows and newspapers began reporting on Obama's slide in the polls. Ike stopped those stories and arrested Obama's two-week streak of bad news cycles.

There are other Ike-related implications that must be addressed as well. For one, offshore drilling seems to have totally disappeared from the national discussion. The vulnerability of offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and their being knocked offline by Ike have led to a sharp rise in gas prices. Talk about increasing offshore drilling only to have even more oil be knocked offline during a future storm would not sit well with the electorate right now. This would seem to disadvantage John McCain who has made offshore drilling the centerpiece of his energy policy. People who viewed the Republican National Convention earlier this month may remember the chants of "Drill, Baby, drill!"

The spike in gas prices and fuel shortages have led to accusations of price gouging. Gas is now being sold for more than $5 a gallon in some areas, thus decreasing consumers' disposable income and adversely impacting the economy as a result. Democrats are known for wanting to crack down on oil speculators and price gouging, while Republicans are known for advocating less government intervention in the market. This would seem to advantage Barack Obama who has addressed confronting corporate malfeasance in his campaign platform.

The fuel shortages should also place a renewed emphasis on energy conservation and building more fuel efficient vehicles because such vehicles are less impacted by these price fluctuations and supply disruptions than the larger, more powerful and less fuel efficient vehicles that typify American automobiles compared to their foreign counterparts.

Likewise, increasing renewable energy, particularly wind energy, would presumably not be at as high a risk of being knocked offline during a hurricane compared to offshore oil rigs and would seem like a smart tack for Obama to take. McCain, in a similar vein, could argue for increased nuclear energy capability.

It is worth noting that these price spikes and supply disruptions are taking place throughout the Southeastern states, all of which are Republican. So it would appear that at least temporarily, Barack Obama and the Democrats have an opening. But should they not capitalize, Republicans could seize the issue and further buttress the budding narrative that they are the "true reformers."

It remains to be seen how much Ike overshadows Sarah Palin's recent interviews with Charlie Gibson. Thursday's interview about foreign policy received mixed reviews that probably didn't win over any new converts or cause any devotees to abandon her. Her Friday interview, however, exposed several gaps that should concern Republicans. Ike has pushed coverage of this interview out of the headlines, but after the storm is gone, the media spotlight may return to these interviews and signify that her media and political honeymoons are over.

Similarly, the hurricane also restricted the coverage of Obama and McCain at the National Service Forum on September 11. Both candidates did a good job at the forum, though Obama may have gotten the better headlines coming out of it because the moderators challenged McCain's tacit approval of the Republicans' mocking of Obama's public service as a community organizer at the convention and the veracity and tone of his recent attacks on Obama. Both candidates have the opportunity to display leadership in terms of organizing volunteers to help out with the relief and recovery efforts in Texas and Louisiana.

Perhaps the greatest impact that Ike had on the political dialogue is that it reminded voters, the media, and hopefully the candidates themselves that governance is serious business. After a week in which e-mail, lipstick, and pigs made the headlines, perhaps the media and both campaigns will be a bit more responsible and mature in executing their responsibilities.

6 comment(s):

Brett said...

One can hope, but then remember that Hurricane Katrina only pushed the trivial crap out of the headlines for a couple of weeks (although the memory of the incompetent response lives on until this day). We'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, presumably, the government is going to be set back the costs of repairing the damage to Houston and Galveston (costs that will probably reach into the tens of billions of dollars, or even more).

You know, that just gave me an idea for a very tough debate question on Global Warming. While the link isn't rock solid, quite a few scientists think that Global Warming is increasing the intensity of hurricanes.

So here's the question - "Senator, as you know, scientists have been predicting that global warming is increasing the intensity of hurricanes, including the devastating hurricanes that struck Houston in September 2008, and New Orleans in September 2005. These caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage. Now suppose that, during your presidency, it reaches a point where the Gulf Coast is getting hit with Class Five hurricanes regularly, year after year. Is there a point where you, as President, would use governmental power to discourage people from setting in this hurricane-prone area?"

Sorry, that was longer than I thought.

Anthony Palmer said...

I think journalists should embrace McCain-Palin's "reform" message and challenge them to provide specifics. We already know they say they will reduce pork and overall spending, but Palin is not credible on that issue. What else will they "reform?" It's a fair question.

S.W. Anderson said...

Many good points. I do hope Obama picks up on mentioning the vulnerability of offshore oil wells.

". . . renewable energy, particularly wind energy, would presumably not be at as high a risk of being knocked offline during a hurricane compared to offshore oil rigs. . ."

Only in areas with buried power lines, and those are few and far between. Overhead power lines, which are the norm, are extremely vulnerable to high-wind damage, whether from a hurricane or just a windstorm.

Regarding the storm changing the focus of news and what people are paying attention to, I think most realize the campaign will be going on for several weeks, whereas the storm and its aftermath are immediate. But people compartmentalize, so it's not either/or. By midweek, I expect most will pick up where they left off, to the extent they were paying attention at all.

From what I've seen on the cable networks, Ike hasn't interfered with them showing specials, mostly positive, about Palin's life story.

S.W. Anderson said...

AP, right on about reporters asking Bush and Palin for specifics, not just on reform but a bunch of things.

Alas, right now the networks seem more intent on showing Palin's pretty smile, nice legs and excited audiences, along with mostly favorable renditions of her life story.

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

voters have to be reminded, thats my problem, ignorance and freedom are incompatiable

and chk out what i wrote today want your feedback

Brett said...

Alas, right now the networks seem more intent on showing Palin's pretty smile, nice legs and excited audiences, along with mostly favorable renditions of her life story.

Some of the cable networks, plus the major newspapers seem to be getting pretty skeptical of her, though. I agree, though, that there is still a whole slightly gossipy element to the main networks' coverage of her.

Seriously, are people's memories just that short? Don't they remember that Bush had the same thing going for him back in 2000 - the outside, folksy, conservative governor with extremely low expectations on his capabilities.

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