Post-Gustav is no time to act like a Republican

On Monday, the McCain campaign website ran a quote from the candidate himself smack-dab on the homepage: “I pledge that tomorrow night and if necessary throughout our convention, we will act as Americans and not as Republicans because America needs us now.”

Darn right — you better not act like Republicans if you want to help America.

The campaign website of Sen. John McCain declares that the arrival of Hurricane Gustav is a moment for “Serving a Cause Greater” (Whatever that means). The GOP — which for eight years demonstrated what columnist Paul Krugman described as “an ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good” — has now reshuffled its convention, talked of fundraisers, phonathons, and volunteers — and told America it’s above partisan politics and is
putting the country first.

As Christopher Hayes wrote, “Volunteers and fundraising isn’t the solution for the Gulf, competent government is, and John McCain has hardly lifted a finger to make that happen.” Hayes points out that McCain warned against overspending in support of Katrina’s victims; voted against establishing a congressional commission to examine the response to Katrina in mid-September 2005; voted against allowing up to fifty-two weeks of unemployment benefits to people affected by the hurricane; and in 2006 voted against appropriating $109 billion in supplemental emergency funding, including $28 billion for hurricane relief.

McCain’s newfound “concern” for the plight of disaster victims is as cynical as some of his recent campaign moves (think: Palin). Consider that in a visit to New Orleans in April, McCain said he wasn’t sure whether the Lower 9th Ward should be rebuilt:

“We need to go back to have a conversation about what to do: rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is.”

On the same visit, he wouldn’t comment on the disparity in funding for the war in Iraq versus funding for Gulf Coast rebuilding. (While it was Sen. James Webb who said in 2007, “If we’re putting all of this money into Iraq and ignoring New Orleans, then we’re doing something wrong.”)

New Orleans and natural disaster preparedness aren’t even mentioned as issues on John McCain’s campaign website.

In contrast, Sen. Barack Obama has a detailed five-page plan on rebuilding the Gulf Coast and preventing future catastrophe.

Obama has introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take into account the specific needs of low-income and special-needs hurricane victims. He has spoken out on the need to streamline the reconstruction process — authorized monies have been slow to arrive as “Louisiana officials have had to fill out more than five million forms to get reconstruction money from FEMA.”

ABC News reported Monday, “Just one-third of the levees have been repaired in the last three years and an additional 350 miles of embankments still need to be fixed. Eighteen pump stations along the levees have been repaired, but 12 more have not been improved.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — once on McCain’s shortlist for VP before the selection of Gov. Sarah Palin — told The Wall Street Journal that the Army Corps of Engineers “is not nearly done with levee work that was supposed to have been done.”

No matter what happens with Gustav, the Republican response to Hurricane Katrina continues to be an epic failure.

When Barack Obama was speaking out about levee rebuilding that was “piecemeal and disorganized,” and “major sections of the city remain nearly as vulnerable as they were before the storm,” where were McCain and the Republicans?

Or, when he was writing to Donald Powell, the federal coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, describing the severe mental health implications of Hurricane Katrina on Gulf Coast children — urging more resources to help those suffering and a coordinated plan that addresses children’s mental health needs for future disaster response and recovery — where were the Republicans then?

Beyond Katrina, where have the Republicans been as Democrats pushed for a focus on infrastructure improvements and as the United States has become “the only major industrial society that is not … renewing and expanding its public infrastructure.”

The Republican party has been MIA, as the lead editorial in this week’s Nation argues: “[T]hey were scorning the very government they were elected to lead.”

So John McCain can mosey on down to the Gulf region for a photo op as he views emergency preparations. Barack Obama felt his entourage would be a disruption and opted to speak to officials by phone.

Republicans can try to whitewash eight years of failing the American people with a song and dance about shaking up their convention for “a higher cause.”

But the American people won’t be fooled. “Not this time,” Obama might say. This is a defining moment. It’s going to take a lot more than Gustav to blow away eight years of Republican neglect.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation magazine. Her column is reprinted here with permission.

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