The wind had barely stopped blowing before Katrina and the storm’s aftermath had become the latest front in the nation’s political/cultural war. Bush critics are already undermining their own cause with overreaching, as they denounce the president as a racist for his alleged unconcern about the suffering of so many black people in New Orleans. But an administration whose FEMA director knew less about on-the-ground conditions in the stricken city this week than the average TV viewer has a real vulnerability.
It will only address that vulnerability with a performance in coming days and weeks that is more in keeping with the GOP’s image as the “daddy party,” the party of competence, the party that can be trusted in times of crisis. That is the main thing. But symbolism will matter too. No single step would go further to dramatize the GOP’s commitment to rebuilding New Orleans than announcing now that the party’s 2008 convention will be held in the recovering city. Such a move would signal the party’s confidence in the Big Easy’s renewal, and put it at the forefront of what should be similar commitments from private actors to do their part to help New Orleans come back.
Critics will call it a transparent attempt to burnish the party’s image after the Bush administration “failed” with the initial relief effort. The gesture would, however, reflect the genuine sentiment of Republicans who, like all Americans, want to help a city facing such a bleak future. We heard similar complaints–easily brushed off–about the Republicans’ coming to New York for last year’s convention.
No doubt there will be logistical problems. There were logistical problems putting on big events in New Orleans even in the best of times. But the Republicans held their convention there in 1988, and should return 20 years later. They will go to a city that then will, no doubt, still be scarred by the catastrophe of the last week, but back on its feet, and a perfect venue for a testament to the American spirit.