ANN ARBOR, Mich–This Labor Day feels like one for once, especially for those working on the Gulf Coast.
We’re working too, cooling our heels in a Courtyard by Marriott parking lot, waiting to move on to the first event of the day. Last evening’s rally in Battle Creek is a distant memory. Each wake-up call is like toggling the ERASE button in your mind. A baseball field, a couple of speeches, 17,000 people–all lost in the blur of the road.
More recent: Arriving at the hotel in Ann Arbor past 11 p.m. and finding out all of the local restaurants are closed. For a crew of hungry, tired reporters, the only worse news could have been if none of the bathrooms were operational.
Primary focus of the immediate: Watching how the Barack Obama campaign delicately handles the Gustav situation. Sunday was a fascinating display of how events shape the message.
For instance, early yesterday, at the first event in Toledo, Ohio, vice presidential pick Joe Biden made some brief remarks about the storm, asking for prayers. Obama didn’t mention it in his comments. Earlier that morning, he had said he didn’t object to John McCain’s fact-finding trip down to Mississippi.
Then as the day–and the bus–rolled forward into Indiana and Michigan, reports began surfacing about the GOP scaling back the convention, about President Bush and Vice President Cheney skipping it altogether.
Politically, it felt like a swing of the pendulum. The initial view was that Gustav had ruined the Republicans’ party had been supplanted by a new take, one that said that McCain and the GOP had found a situation they could utilize to augment themes of sacrifice, patriotism and community service, with McCain talking about removing a “Republican” hat and replacing it with an “American” hat. Sounds something like another politician saying we don’t live in a Blue State or Red State, doesn’t it?
And was Obama, in deciding that it would unwise to head South because it would “be a distraction,” making a responsible decision or was he playing into McCain claims about his “celebrity” status? Or both?
By last evening, in Battle Creek, it was Obama who mentioned the onrushing storm, and he too was saying that it was event beyond partisanship, using it as a call for the electorate to rise above “small politics.” And he offered a daring–and perhaps unwieldy–rhetorical trick, analogizing the hurricane to a “quiet storm” of economic regression that had pounded the country. He suggested that the same marshaling of federal resources exhibited by the Bush administration should be used to lift Americans out of fiscal purgatory.
It might have been an okay move–if Gustav doesn’t smash Louisiana to bits. Something like that strains the metaphor.
Today, the simmering question is whether Obama will adjust his campaign schedule – or at least his stump speech–in the wake of the hurricane. Will the trail become a free-fire zone while the impact of the storm is assessed? Obama will take the stage at an event in Detroit at noon, right as Gustav is roaring through Louisiana. Will there still be talk of quiet storms then?