This week, the anti-disaster assistance party scrambled to shuffle its anti-government convention speakers in the face of Hurricane Isaac. Meanwhile, the New York Times reported, “As the American Petroleum Institute planned a concert and a party here to push its agenda, which includes expansion of oil exploration on federal lands, some of its members were ramping down production in the gulf and removing workers from platforms.”
Welcome to Republicans’ “split-screen” convention week. On one side of your TV screen, competitive condemnations of the government boot on the American economy’s neck. On the other: a dangerous storm that dramatically symbolizes the need for strong infrastructure, sane environmental policy and solid emergency response. Unlike the Republicans, the storm won’t talk. But the contrast speaks volumes.
This is the second straight GOP convention to lose its opening night to a natural disaster: the 2008 gathering in Minneapolis–St. Paul came as Hurricane Gustav hit the Gulf Coast. And it’s the second such gathering since Hurricane Katrina, when Republican hostility to effective governance came at a terrible price—one we’re still paying. That tragedy was a wake-up call for Americans, and it should have been a turning point for the Republican Party. But it wasn’t. Instead, we get cheap symbolism: President Bush’s convenient cancellation of his 2008 convention trip, Monday’s moment of silence. Meanwhile, the anti-government rage burns hot as ever, and the anti-government agenda marches ever onward.
As George Zornick observed Monday, the current GOP House has “consistently played dangerous politics with disaster relief funds and slashed the budgets of storm monitoring agencies, thereby executing the same small-government-at-all-costs mentality that led to widespread destruction in New Orleans.”
The storm wasn’t the only reality to intrude on the GOP’s Ayn Rand fantasy in 2008. A month before the convention, two vehicles were hit by a 1,200-pound piece of concrete that fell off of a bridge in St. Paul; a year before, thirteen people had died when a Minneapolis bridge collapsed. While the tragedy drew attention from some congressional Democrats, Politico reported in the lead-up to the ’08 convention that Republicans were literally steering clear of the bridge’s reconstruction in planning their event. The following year, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued its quadrennial report card on America’s Infrastructure. Overall Grade: D.