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Column: Natural Disasters Benefit Presidential Campaigns

This story was written by Nate Monroe, The Daily Reveille

In presidential campaigns, everything is about politics even disasters.

While Hurricane Gustav was bearing down on Louisiana, Republican presidential contender Sen. John McCain canceled the first day of festivities for the Republican National Convention and made his way along with his freshly picked running mate to Mississippi.

Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama urged his massive and record-breaking donor base numbering in the millions to donate to the American Red Cross for disaster victims.

I have no doubt both candidates were and are genuinely concerned about the aftermath and victims of Hurricane Gustav and decided to use their potent influence primarily for disaster relief.

But make no mistake there are political rewards for these magnanimous acts, and the campaigns are astutely aware of that.

Disasters create a unique political scenario: basically, a win-win. For campaign managers, the stars align the most humanitarian action and the most politically expedient one are the same. Candidates can provide real help to victims while reaping the benefits of good press and creating photo-ops and advertisements.

Speculation soared that Hurricane Gustav would dampen the effect and media coverage of the Republican National Convention, and that by essentially canceling the first day of festivities, McCain was ceding one of his only chances to gain a significant bounce in polls.

Boy was that wrong.

Instead, the press focused on the hurricane while significantly reducing coverage of the recently completed Democratic National Convention and, most importantly, not parsing McCains new running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palins sparse record.

McCain, meanwhile, used the occasion to tout his bipartisan credentials, and President Dubya found a good reason to skip the convention a major plus as well as Vice President Darth Vader an even bigger plus.

And when the convention resumed Tuesday, the Republicans were allowed to pretend HurricaneGustav and the bumbling response courtesy of a Republican president never happened.

Most major polls are indicating that McCain has received a significant bounce.

This isnt to say Obamas campaign didnt seek good will from its response too its simply that McCain, with the convention and his fresh running mate, was in a better position to gain.

Even Gov. Bobby Jindal had a political stake in making sure the state was prepared for a disaster, contrasting former Gov. Kathleen Blancos ill-received and poorly executed response to Hurricane Katrina.

Jindal, of course, has far more reason than political expedience to well prepare the state like effectively doing the job he was elected to do.

But if Jindal ever makes a presidential run as some fantasize you can bet a successful record with hurricane preparedness and recovery will make a good talking point and a hell of a line on his resume.

In a joint statement, Obama and McCain announced they will make a united appearance at ground zero for the seventh anniversary of Sept. 11 Thursday. On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, the statement said.

Some may accuse me of cynicism: Why not just trust these guys? Does there have to be an agenda for everything?

What if McCain and Obama really mean to help unite the country, even in an election season?

In a perfect world where politicians always acted in the best interest of the public that criticism is valid.

But in our world the real world politicians dont always act in the best interest of the public; if hey did, McCain wouldnt run ads comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, and policy proposals wouldnt be replaced with vapid talking points.

This is about cognizance. A responsible consumer wants to know when theyre being advertised to, and a responsible voter ought to be aware when theyre being campaigned to. After all, campaigns are really well developed public relations operations: Good intentions are there, but in the end, campaigns are always working to get their guy elected without exception.

Its a shame that it takes catastrophic events such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters to get campaigns to act in the publics best interest.

The rest of the time, we dont seem to demand that same action. And instead of a win-win situation, its a win-lose.

Who loses?

Hint: its not the politicians.