The campaign website of Senator John McCain declares that the arrival ofHurricane Gustav is a moment for “Serving a Cause Greater”. (Whatever that means.) The GOP–which for eight yearsdemonstrated what columnist Paul Krugman described as “an ideological hostility to the very idea of using government toserve the public good” –has now reshuffled its convention, talked offundraisers, phonathons, and volunteers–and told America it’s abovepartisan politics and is putting the country first.

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

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

As Christopher Hayes wrote in his excellent post today, “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 over-spending 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 supplementalemergency funding, including $28 billion for hurricane relief.

McCain’s newfound “concern” for the plight of disaster victims is ascynical as some of his recent campaign moves (think, Palin). Considerthat 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: rebuildit, tear it down, you know, whatever it is.

On the same visit, hewouldn’t comment on the disparity in funding for the War in Iraq versusfunding for Gulf Coast rebuilding. (Senator James Webb saidin 2007, “If we’re putting all of this money into Iraq and ignoring NewOrleans, then we’re doing something wrong.”) New Orleans and naturaldisaster preparedness aren’t even mentioned as issues on his campaignwebsite.

In contrast, Senator Barack Obama has a five-page plan on GulfCoast rebuilding and preventing future catastrophes here. He introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take intoaccount the specific needs of low-income and special needs hurricanevictims. He has spoken out on the need to streamline the reconstructionprocess–authorized monies have been slow to arrive as “Louisianaofficials have had to fill out more than five million forms to getreconstruction money from FEMA.”

ABC News reported Monday, “Just one-third of the levees have been repaired in the lastthree years and an additional 350 miles of embankments still need to befixed. Eighteen pump stations along the levees have been repaired, but12 more have not been improved.” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal–onceon McCain’s shortlist for VP before the selection of Governor 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 GOP response to HurricaneKatrina continues to be an epic failure.

When Obama was speaking out about levee rebuilding that was “piecemealand disorganized,” and “major sections of the city remain nearly asvulnerable as they were before the storm,” where were McCain and theRepublicans? Or, when he was writing to Donald Powell, the FederalCoordinator of Gulf Coast Rebuilding, describing the severe mentalhealth implications of Hurricane Katrina on Gulf Coast children–urgingmore resources to help those suffering and a coordinated plan thataddresses children’s mental health needs for future disaster responseand recovery–where were the Republicans then? Beyond Katrina, wherehave the Republicans been as Democrats pushed for a focus oninfrastructure improvements and the US became “the only major industrial society that is not…renewing and expanding its public infrastructure.”

The GOP was MIA, as the lead editorialin this week’s Nation argues, “they were scorning the very governmentthey were elected to lead.”

So McCain can mosey on down to the Gulf region for a photo op as he views emergency preparations (Obama felt his entourage would be a disruption and opted to speak to officials by phone), and Republicans can try towhitewash 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,” Obamamight say.

This is a defining moment. It’s going to take a lot more than Gustav toblow away eight years of Republican neglect.