MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
For Republicans gathering this week in Tampa for their national convention, Isaac poses a daunting challenge: how to balance politics with the crisis unfolding along the Gulf Coast. As we just heard from Greg, today is also the anniversary of the day Hurricane Katrina hit the coast. And that's prompting flashbacks for a lot of Republicans who watched as then-President Bush responded too slowly to the storm. This year, convention organizers canceled the first night of convention festivities, showing they've learned something from that experience. NPR's Don Gonyea reports.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This was the ominous news seven years ago today as heard on The Weather Channel, Katrina had made landfall.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE NEWS)
JEFF MORROW THE WEATHER CHANNEL: I'm Jeff Morrow here in Covington, Louisiana. We have some trees starting to snap off here and...
GONYEA: A day earlier, President George W. Bush did follow the usual conventions.
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PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with the...
GONYEA: But when Katrina hit, Mr. Bush had a series of moments that made him seem completely unaware. He was seen joking with senior citizens in Arizona and presenting Senator John McCain with a birthday cake on that trip. Then there was that low Air Force One flyover of a flooded New Orleans. Ultimately, the president had to address the mounting criticism.
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BUSH: Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government, and to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.
GONYEA: Katrina became iconic as a devastating storm, but also as an example of an inept government response, parodied in pop culture. This is from the animated TV show "Family Guy."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FAMILY GUY")
SETH MACFARLANE: (as voice of Brian Griffin) Don't worry, Lois. I'm good at finding people. I was the one who found Bush after Hurricane Katrina. Mr. President, are you up there?
(as voice of George W. Bush) Go away.
(as voice of Brian Griffin) Sir, there's a disaster in New Orleans.
GONYEA: Now, zoom ahead almost exactly three years to August 2008. Republicans were gathering in Minnesota to nominate presidential candidate John McCain and another hurricane was heading for land, Gustav. This is from CBS News that day.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NEWS)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hurricane Gustav is raining on the Republicans' party.
GONYEA: That 2008 convention eventually went on, but the reaction showed the post-Katrina GOP sensitivity to the political damage such a storm can do, which brings us to this year's RNC gathering. Another GOP convention, another hurricane. Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, says the cancelation of day one was not just a reaction to potential danger or to image problems of the past, but that the storm could also undercut a core message of this convention for Republicans.
SUSAN MACMANUS: Because their whole premise is that they're more responsive to the needs of citizens. That's why it's doubly important for them not to get in a situation where they look like they're not sensitive.
GONYEA: Of course, Democrats argue that Republican budget cutting would actually hurt emergency preparedness. Yesterday, the speeches resumed with very little reference to Hurricane Isaac. The only primetime speaker to mention it was Ann Romney.
ANN ROMNEY: Just so you all know, the hurricane has hit landfall. And I think we should all take this moment and recognize that fellow Americans are in its path and just hope and pray that all are remained safe and no life is lost.
GONYEA: There certainly may be more mentions tonight and tomorrow. And if the situation with Isaac worsens, look for convention organizers to huddle and to react.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Tampa.
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