Today’s Courier Herald Column:
This is not how things were supposed to start.
An estimated 50,000 people are in Tampa area hotel rooms deciding how best to spend a rainy day indoors. For the second convention in a row, Republicans have scrapped the opening day of their national meeting in deference to a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.
2008’s Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana as Republicans were to convene their meeting in Minneapolis. It was both an unfortunate reminder of hurricane Katrina, as well as a real threat to Americans living on the Gulf coast. Originally forecast to make landfall as a category 3 storm – a major hurricane – it weakened significantly as it approached the U.S. coastline.
Isaac has proven to be mostly a rain event for the Tampa area, though the threat of tornadoes will continue throughout Monday. There is, however, the same threat that as Republicans return to prime time television with speeches and pageantry, there will be a large number of Americans being impacted by the storm. Managing the two visuals will be challenging. Such is the nature of mixing heavily scripted events with the reality that the world continues on around us, usually ignorant of such scripts.
It’s always a good thing to mix a touch of reality into rigid formality. It is what the next President must be prepared for. We’re not trying to elect a president that can best follow a teleprompter or deliver the best stump speech. With the country mired in political gridlock, there is a clear need for leadership.
Leaders quickly react to changing circumstances. They reassure that everything will be OK. They evaluate and form a plan. They gather the necessary coalitions needed behind them. And then they move out.
George W. Bush didn’t plan on his presidency being about 9/11 and its aftermath. The passengers of four airplanes changed his presidency and American history early one September morning. Likewise, Jimmy Carter hadn’t planned on a Presidency dealing with an Iranian religious regime and a cartel of oil producing countries cutting U.S. petroleum supplies.
Presidents can campaign on whatever they choose. The speeches can be filled with beautiful rhetoric and unlimited platitudes. It is important to remember that the ideal world they project does not exist in reality. Each President will inherit problems. New events and pressures will be added to the mix.
Harry Truman embodied the spirit of the Presidency with his desk plaque stating “the buck stops here”. Republicans will this week seek to make the case that President Obama is Truman’s polar opposite.
The President who promised “hope and change” complained last September that the country had grown soft. The President who promised if we passed his economic recovery plan unemployment would remain under 8% now has to deal with a record of 42 consecutive months of 8%+ unemployed, plus a significantly higher number of Americans leaving the workforce.
Through it all, we’re in the finals months of a first term where the President, despite having a complete Democratic Congress for two years to pass his corrective actions, still blames the previous president for his inability to deliver on his promises.
George Bush didn’t make the promises that Candidate Obama made. George Bush didn’t make the promises that early President Obama did. The buck must stop with the one who is asking for four more years, and is asking voters to trust him that he’ll somehow get it right this time.
By contrast, Republicans need to demonstrate a clear and concise contrast on how things will be different under a President Romney. They’ll have to do so with one less day of convention activities. But with a lot of effort that will remain unseen by most Americans, the schedules have been quickly realigned and the Tuesday through Thursday prime time infomercial will go on as planned, with a slightly different lineup.
It’s perhaps one of the smallest challenges that the Romney team will face over the next 4 years if this campaign is successful. But it is a reminder that as real world events change, the candidate, and eventually the president must be able to change with them. That’s how it is supposed to happen.