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A Noun, A Verb, And ... Hurricane Gustav?

Yesterday I argued that Obama dodged a bullet with Gustav, since a more serious crisis would have primed McCain to play president this week, basking in the glow of an effective response he had nothing to do with. It seems as though the McCain campaign has come to a similar conclusion--and decided to shoe-horn Gustav into the McCain narrative anyway.

At a high-profile New Hampshire-South Carolina breakfast this morning, campaign manager Rick Davis dwelled at length on what McCain's response to the storm said about his moral code. "He looked at this storm barreling down on the Gulf Coast, and he called me up and said, 'Change the convention,'" Davis recalled. "I don't like giving up an hour of prime time, but that's the difference between me and John... He's all about character... I have to do politics." (No mention of how convenient it was that Gustav routed Bush and Cheney away from St. Paul.)

Davis then went on to describe all the ways the campaign had sublimated its political energies, setting up a phone bank in the Minneapolis Hilton and raising $1.5 million for the Gulf Coast. "We showed we could act the appropriate way, without trying to take credit, without trying to grandstand it..." Right. It reminded me of the way McCain never talks about his Vietnam captivity.

But Davis was nothing compared with Rudy Giuliani, who followed him at the podium. (The New Hampshire and South Carolina delegations get the heavy-hitters and prime real estate because McCain credits them with delivering him the nomination. And because they're New Hampshire and South Carolina...) "This convention had a detour," Giuliani began, "but the detour is very telling about our candidate." He went on to explain how McCain didn't need 300-400 advisers weighing in on Gustav. "He figured out intuitively the right thing to do." Giuliani said lesser men would still be deliberating on the right course of action, probably consulting public opinions. 

Later, so that no one would miss the implicit analogy, Rudy described his own Gustav experience--9/11. "When 9/11 happened, I was in a hotel. I rushed to the scene, and I wanted to reach the White House for air support." The punchline was an allusion to Hillary's now-famous 3 am ad: "I did have to make a call like that. ... It wasn't at 3 am. It was about 9:30 am. It was real important to me who was on the other end of the phone."

Recall, if you would, what we're talking about here: Not McCain's management of the response to a hurricane--for which a 9/11 analogy would be a stretch, but not an egregious one. But McCain's management of a political convention taking place over 1,000 miles from a hurricane. This is McCain's 9/11 moment?  

Whatever the case, get ready to hear the McCain not "grandstanding" Gustav all week long.  

--Noam Scheiber