[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/09/01/art.mccain.gustav.jpg caption="Sen. John McCain helps pack Hurricane Gustav relief packages at the ISOH/Impact charitable organization's facility in Toledo, Ohio, Monday." width=292 height=320]
David Gergen | Bio
CNN Senior Political Analyst
John McCain's decision to limit the opening day of the Republican convention has brought a flurry of comment from voters, once again showing how deeply divided the country remains.
His supporters proclaim that consistent with the theme of the convention, "Country First", McCain and the GOP have given up their opening night on television - a chance to bolster the McCain-Palin ticket and to bash Obama-Biden - as an act of respect for those in the path of Hurricane Gustav. Instead of raising money for the party, Republicans are also raising funds for storm victims. And in advance of the storm, McCain seemed very much in command again as he visited Mississippi and issued directives to the RNC - very much in contrast to the hands-off approach of George W. Bush during Katrina.
McCain's critics say this is all hogwash - that the Republicans are up to their cynical tricks, that they were glad to find an excuse for keeping Bush and Cheney away from their opening night, that they are engaged in acts of contrition in order to make up for the political disaster of Katrina three years ago, and that voters will see this is mostly a political ploy. As for putting "country first", say the critics, how can McCain argue that after selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate?
Let me say where I come down: while the arguments of the critics have rings of truth to them, I believe that McCain and the Republicans did the right thing with Gustav bearing down. It would have been inappropriate and insensitive to have had a festive opening to a political convention while so many Americans were in harm's way. It is also true that McCain himself does believe in promoting public service and has been consistent on this point. If Republicans gain some political leverage out of this - and they probably will - so be it: the test for each candidate is in part to show how well they adapt to changing circumstances. The Obama-Biden team adapted extremely well to the challenges of their convention, and now it is the Republicans' turn at bat.
That said, there are much bigger issues facing the country than the response to this storm: how we meet the huge challenges of a deteriorating economy, falling wages, rising costs, an ailing heath care system, global warming, not to mention Iran, Iraq, Russia, nuclear proliferation, the rise of Asia, etc., etc. Those are the questions we need to return to as the GOP convention gets more fully underway. And on the big issues, the McCain-Palin ticket still has a ways to go to persuade a majority of voters that it offers more hope that Obama-Biden.
More on the bigger questions overhanging the Republican convention in a coming post, but for now, we welcome your comments on how the Republicans have responded to Gustav.
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