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GOPers look for Gustav's silver lining


Hurricane Gustav may have spared New Orleans, but it dumped a cloudful of cold water on the opening of the Republican National Convention. Quite properly, John McCain all but canceled the opening day’s events, opting to stage a stripped-down convention instead of a full-blown four-day fiesta - a move intended to convey sympathy for the storm’s victims, but also to insulate the GOP nominee from the current president’s botched handling of Katrina.

Bush had been scheduled to speak at the convention on Monday, along with Dick Cheney and Laura Bush; instead, the president spoke briefly last night by satellite feed, allowing McCain to maintain a little literal and metaphorical distance. It’s probably just as well: bizarrely, earlier in the day Bush had tried to twist the storms lashing the Gulf Coast to his political advantage, presenting them as an excuse for more off-shore drilling.

Speaking at a televised cabinet meeting, Bush told reporters that the fact Gustav had not significantly damaged rigs and oil pipelines should drive Congress to open more areas to off-shore drilling. “When Congress comes back, they've got to understand that we need more domestic energy, not less,” Bush said. “One place to find it is offshore America, lands that have been taken off the books, so to speak, by congressional law.”

That’s a tenuous, and pretty cynical, line of reasoning. Still, it’s not one that John McCain would argue with: earlier this summer, he explained his own flip-flop on off-shore drilling by claiming that oil technology was “safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage.” 

In fact, McCain was dead wrong: Katrina and Rita wrecked 113 oil platforms and caused 124 separate oil spills, including six of 42,000 gallons or more. Still, greens have struggled to find a suitable response to the GOP’s efforts to tie off-shore drilling to Hurricane Gustav; a memo circulating among environmental activists this week argued that the storm should be off-limits, since any effort to link hurricanes to global warming or to oil spills “runs the risk of coming off as opportunism.”

There’s a degree of truth to that: certainly it does neither Democrats nor greens any favors when the likes of Michael Moore declare that Gustav “is proof that there’s a God in heaven”. Still, Republicans don’t seem to have any qualms about trying to use hurricane season to their advantage. With the RNC finally under way and more storms gathering, greens need to martial their talking-points, and prepare to fight back.