GOP “Counter-Programming”

  Republicans had a brief first convention session on the Labor Day.  A missed opportunity?  More likely, Hurricane Gustav was a blessing.  Here are some of the reasons.

  First, the storm kept George W. Bush and Dick Cheney away.  Bush’s approval rating’s about 30%.  Cheney’s is lower.  A Presidential speech to conventioneers on the day a storm hits New Orleans could only remind voters of the botched reponse to Katrina.

  Gustav even gives President Bush a second chance at success, and gives John McCain a chane to share in his redemption.  McCain’s toured emergency response centers, assessing the situation, using the first-person plural: “We’ve got more resources ready to deploy…”

    Gustav is also giving the McCain campaign a chance to give one of its chief selling points a good workout– “Putting the country first.”  The candidate eschews normal campaigning to help pack relief supplies (attracting more cameras than the average rally, of course).

   This, in TV terms, is perfect Republican “counter-programming” to the Democrats’ convention.  The rap the GOP’s been trying to put on Barack Obama is that he’s a style-over-substance celebrity, willing to put electoral politics above the national good. 

   Well, the Democrats certainly staged a good convention show in Denver.  They got warmth from Michelle Obama and her daughters, tour-de-force speeches from the Clintons, and engineered a roll-call two-step that allowed Hillary Clinton to issue one last extra dramatic call for unity.

   Then, there was the stadium spectacular, 80-thousand-plus, voicing full-throated enthusiasm as Obama spoke, followed by fireworks.

   John McCain and the Republicans derided the Denver spectacle as “a mile high and an inch deep”, but truth is, they can’t compete with the energy level on display last week.  All the polls indicate Republicans are operating at an “enthusiasm deficit”.  At this convention, they don’t have the dramatic tension the Clintons provided and then resolved.  And they don’t have a candidate who orates well, to wrap it all up.

   Now, Gustav offers a chance to “counter-program”.  A more subdued, sober convention which will certainly aim sharp broadsides at the Democratic ticket soon (I’d predict Rudy Giuliani will be pretty scathing, on Tuesday night).

   Though convention managers predict McCain will be in the arena to accept his party’s nomination Thursday night, I won’t be surprised if he does so by satellite, from somewhere on the Gulf Coast.  Any arena speech would fall short in comparison to Obama’s.  Even diehard McCainiacs concede– their guy can’t speechify like his opponent.

   John McCain may try to impress with statecraft, rather than stagecraft, stress empathy rather than the energy that was so evident in Denver.

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