With news that Gustav is headed towards Louisiana and that New Orleans is under mandatory evacuation, it is reassuring on some fronts to see the Republican response. So far Bush and Cheney have cancelled their appearances in St. Paul and the RNC is trying to determine how and to what extent they should cut back on festivities (McCain suggested yesterday that the convention might even be moved, but that strikes me as a non-starter).

Of course, it’s hard not to see this as political posturing. But this is one of those times when political posturing aligns with the right thing to do; I can’t imagine watching an RNC where nothing has changed despite the fact that Americans are suffering from a regional disaster. And yes, one can say that this never would have happened if not for Katrina. Even so, I’m not sure what alternatives are out there under these circumstances.

That being said, I find it disturbing that McCain and Palin have decided to go down to Mississippi this week. A trip like this is worse than opportunism. Let us not forget that McCain doesn’t travel alone; he brings along staff and Secret Service agents, all of whom require the time and attention of local officials. The situation is reminiscent of Rumsfeld’s infamous 9/11 response to rush outside the Pentagon and give orders: the images on TV inspire confidence, at least until one remembers that our leaders are neglecting the responsibilities that are truly meant to keep us safe.

Neither McCain nor Palin offer any unique advantage to New Orleans with their presence — they are not Southern politicians, they don’t have any particularly useful contacts in the area and they aren’t emergency responders. (Meanwhile, Obama will not travel to the region but has said he will use his fundraiser lists to coordinate volunteers once damage is assessed.) However, McCain could be particularly helpful from his Senate position, if he so chose.

And if visiting a possible emergency site to “check on preparations” (as the campaign refers to it) doesn’t bother you particularly, consider this line from Politico yesterday:

McCain was scheduled to deliver his acceptance speech Thursday but now may do so from the devastation zone if the storm hits the U.S. coast with the ferocity feared by forecasters.

It can be hard sometimes not to drift towards the spotlight. But that is precisely why we seek leaders with sound judgement, however they come across it.

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