The storm in question was Hurricane 'Gustav' which- having already done a number in the Caribbean, including crossing the western end of Cuba and drenching that entire island nation before regaining its strength in the Gulf of Mexico- seemed to be looking upon New Orleans as if a bull's eye on an archer's target. New Orleans in particular, and the State of Louisiana of which it is a part in general, now faced the nightmarish scenario of a possible repeat of the devastation caused by Hurricane 'Katrina' only a little more than three years before.
But the Republican Party in general- and President George W. Bush in particular- faced a nightmare of their own as a result of the approaching hurricane, for the Bush Administration got hammered, as regards popular opinion, with its failure to respond effectively to 'Katrina' (though, to be fair, then-Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, both Democrats, also got similarly- and rightly- hammered for the very same reason) and needed no reminder of that going into the GOP's own Convention (keep in mind the "political tightrope" John McCain walks, as I noted in my Republican Convention preview of the other day-- for Senator McCain had to put forth an air of competence in the face of crisis while not at all unduly undermining incumbent President Bush's own constitutional authority, as well as responsibility, to actually respond to said crisis).
There was also the matter of decorum: even with the Republican Convention being held so far away from the area directly affected by the hurricane, it would not at all look good for the GOP to be partying, as well as bashing the Democrats and their Obama/Biden national ticket, while Americans might be in harm's way (and in precisely the way that could very well bring back bad memories of 'Katrina' to the American electorate)... in addition, there would be quite a number of Republican politicians (the Governors of the Gulf States so threatened, for example) who would not- indeed, should not- be attending. Indeed, early on Sunday- as 'Gustav' got ever closer to the Gulf Coast and almost the entire population of the coast of Louisiana evacuated- the White House announced that neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney would be attending their own Party's fete.
So the GOP faced its own "political tightrope": should the Convention be postponed?- should it even go forward at all?-- if so, should it simply do nothing apart from the barest basics: seat its delegates, adopt its rules and platform, nominate Senator McCain and Governor Palin and then "git out o' Dodge"? (in other words, a one-day Convention, perhaps? McCain and Palin giving their Acceptance Speeches elsewhere than in St. Paul?)--
what the Republicans decided to do (led by Senator McCain himself) was to convene the Convention as scheduled (actually, given Party rules, they had little- if any- choice); do the basics, indeed; and then simply dispense with the usual program of partisan speeches such as what we saw at the Democratic Convention the week before and, instead, use the truncated first session of the Convention as a call to service to all Americans, Republican or not ('Service: serving a cause greater than one's own self-interest', after all, had been originally scheduled to be the theme of the first evening of the Convention anyway-- in addition, the overall theme of the Convention was to be 'Country First' [which is precisely why Senator Obama, in his own Acceptance Speech the previous Thursday, had specifically declaimed "I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first"]). Thereafter, the Convention would be scheduled on a day-by-day basis (the Republicans clearly hoped that, however 'Gustav' might- or might not- ravage the Gulf Coast, things would be "back to normal" enough for, at the very least, John McCain to accept his presidential nomination before the Convention as scheduled on the evening of Thursday 4 September).
This, however, meant that the Convention would now have to walk a somewhat different "political tightrope": how to be more American than Republican at a Republican Convention, yet still make it clear that this Convention was, in fact, there to nominate John McCain for President and Sarah Palin for Vice President and, at the same time, get the assembled well fired up to take on Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the ensuing Fall campaign without looking as if they were trying to take undue political advantage of a natural disaster by making it sound as if aiding persons so being threatened by a powerful tropical cyclone was something only Republicans could do (which might only end up offending those who did not necessarily support the GOP [though there would be more concern here about potentially offending independent voters who might well consider voting for McCain/Palin in November than hard-core Democrats to whom the GOP would be "damned if they do, damned in they don't" in any event] and who might be upset about either the McCain/Palin campaign or the GOP as a whole so politicizing Hurricane 'Gustav')...
it was to be the proverbial "tough call" and the 'undertow' of this "political tightrope" fairly pervaded everything the Republican Convention would do on its very first day. There seemed no way it wouldn't, no matter what was done.
Thus, under these unprecedented, where not also altogether strange circumstances, the 39th Republican National Convention got set to begin meeting at the XCel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota on Monday 1 September 2008, the very day on which- at approximately 9:30 AM local time (10:30 AM Eastern Time [1430 UTC])- 'Gustav' came ashore along the Louisiana coast southwest of that same New Orleans once so besieged by 'Katrina'.
What would be altogether abbreviated proceedings on the Convention's first day would begin with the Presentation of Colors by Boy Scout Troop 738 of St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Only after this did Republican National Committee Chair Mike Duncan of Kentucky formally call the Convention to order at 2:49 PM local time in Minnesota (3:49 PM Eastern Time US [1949 UTC]), after which Mr. Duncan made a few remarks linking the work of the Convention to that which was, at the time, going on at the opposite end of the very Mississippi River along which the GOP Convention was then meeting:
After noting that he was only the second son of Kentucky to call a Republican Convention to order (the other was Kentucky Senator Thurston B. Morton who, as RNC Chair in 1960, got to call to order that year's Republican Convention [Morton would also be the Permanent Chair of the 1964 GOP Convention which nominated, interestingly, an Arizonan for President: Barry Goldwater]), Duncan continued: We are Republicans but, more importantly, we are Americans: as one Nation under God, we come together with prayerful hearts for our country. As we gather in Minnesota, a great storm afflicts our country and, when one of us is threatened, we all are threatened.
As Americans, Party Chairman Duncan continued, we rise to the challenge, we unite, we respond and we take care of our own. Duncan then urged the assembled to pull out their cell phones and, through the Text2Help program (a joint endeavor of the Wireless Association of America and the American Red Cross which allows cell phone users to donate $5 to the Red Cross via a simple text message), give so as to help those in the States along the Gulf of Mexico being adversely affected by Hurricane 'Gustav'. We're going to match our words with action, Duncan told the Convention... I hope that each of you will be generous with your prayers and your pocketbooks.
Duncan next turned to the heart of the inherent contradiction- that very "political tightrope"- facing the Republican Party that day: that, while being Americans first and Republicans second, and while mindful of the current crisis of our fellow countrymen, we must also plan for the future of our country: that future depends on strong, experienced leadership... that leader is John McCain!
As the Convention was, to this end, required to engage in at least a bare minimum of procedural matters in order to then become a body legally constituted to, at least at some point in the near future, formally nominate the Party's presidential and vice-presidential nominees, Duncan soon got the assembled down to that very political, albeit altogether mundane (at least in recent Presidential Election cycles), business.
As we go forth, Duncan admonished the delegates, please keep your countrymen in your thoughts and prayers.
The first order of business was the reading of the Call of the Convention by the Convention's Secretary, Jean Inman. Ms. Inman read the first portion of the Call aloud before Chairman Duncan entertained a motion from a delegate from John McCain's home State of Arizona that further reading of the Call be dispensed with-- the motion was approved viva voce. With the Call having been treated (utilizing the devices of 'Parliamentary Procedure 101' invoked by the motion just adopted) as if read in full, Chairman Duncan could- under the provisions of that Call- now nominate a Temporary Chairman- U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, also of Kentucky- who was, likewise, approved as such by the Convention viva voce.
A delegate from Michigan then moved that proposed Temporary Officers (already named in the Call) be approved as such (done, viva voce) and a delegate from Pennsylvania, similarly, moved that the proposed members of the Convention's four key Committees- on Credentials, on Permanent Organization, on Resolutions (the GOP equivalent of the Democrats' Platform Committee) and on Rules and Order of Business- also previously named in the Call- be approved (again: done, viva voce).
Party Chairman Duncan then ordered that these four Committees immediately meet separately and then report back to the Convention at the soonest opportunity (in practice, in about an hour and a quarter from the time the Convention was now so officially recessed- 3:03 PM local time in Minnesota [4:03 PM Eastern: 2003 UTC]).
Thus, the Convention was reconvened by Party Chairman Duncan at 4:18 PM local time (5:18 PM Eastern [2118 UTC]), after which the report of the Committee on Credentials was considered by the Convention (because, first of all, the Roll of Delegates- in other words, who is allowed to vote on the floor of the Convention- has to be known). It was presented by the Committee's chair, Jim Herring of Mississippi.
Herring noted that there had been three States with credentials issues coming into the Convention- these States being Massachusetts, Nevada and Washington [State]- the settlements of which were, at first, recommended by the Republican National Committee's Committee on Contests to the RNC itself:
Herring reported that, as regarded Massachusetts, a contested delegate from one Congressional District (the 4th) was unseated and replaced by a duly-elected alternate; in Nevada, what he called an equitable remedy was applied to the seating of the delegation (the Nevada delegation had been the subject of much controversy- including a State Convention that had been summarily suspended in mid-session, itself involving disputes pitting supporters of erstwhile presidential contender Congressman Ron Paul of Texas against the leadership of the Nevada Republican Party); and, in Washington (where the dispute had much to do with the use of a bifurcated delegate selection procedure- both a Caucus/Convention process and a Primary each pledged part of the State's delegation to presidential contenders [the issues were rather similar to those that appeared, on the Democratic side, in a similar bifurcated process in Texas]), the contested delegates and alternates were credentialed and seated.
The Republican National Committee accepted all the above recommendations and, as it turned out, only the Washington dispute was ever appealed to the Credentials Committee itself, which had simply denied the appeal. Herring concluded: It has been an honor to certify the delegates to this Convention who will serve to nominate the next President of the United States, John McCain of Arizona, and the next Vice President, Governor Palin of Alaska.
Herring then moved the adoption of the Temporary Roll of Delegates and Alternates (that produced by the Credentials Committee, including the implementation of the solutions to the aforementioned disputes) as the Permanent Roll (which would serve to make those listed on said Roll legally, as a body, "the 2008 Republican National Convention"). This was approved viva voce.
What followed was the report of the Committee on Rules and Order of Business (because the delegates just seated officially by the adoption of the Credentials Committee report need to know under what rules they will operate), presented by Committee chair Alec Poitevint of Georgia. It, too, was approved viva voce. These rules so adopted, by the way, also included a proposed schedule of "delegate selection events" for 2012 on the Republican side: no Primaries or Caucuses prior to Tuesday 7 February 2012, except for a couple of smaller States permitted to begin their delegate selection process no earlier than Tuesday 17 January of that year.
Next came the report of the Committee on Permanent Organization (because the delegates also need to know who is going to be actually enforcing those rules), presented by the chair of that Committee, Jayne Millerick of New Hampshire. The report included the appointment of U.S. House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio as Permanent Chairman of the Convention, along with a number of vice- chairs (including Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer and Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).
Ms. Millerick then moved the adoption of her Committee's report, which was approved by the Convention viva voce. Party Chairman Duncan then announced the appointment of an Escort Committee for Permanent Chairman Boehner (another old-time tradition of these Party gatherings).
The next item on the agenda was accepting the Party's Platform, presented by the Committee on Resolutions. The chair of that Committee, Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California, presented the Platform to the Convention, referring to it as, among other things, the People's platform;... a 21st Century platform;... an American platform because it is guided by American principles and puts our faith in ingenuity and creativity, rather than Washington complacency.
Noting that the previous (2004) Republican platform had been more than 40,000 words in length and this one was less than half as long, McCarthy called it half as wordy, but twice as bold... We are a Party of ideas, McCarthy declaimed, not a coalition of interests-- so, yes, we are a Party of mavericks!
The co-chair of the Resolutions (Platform) Committee, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina next came to the podium: Thousands of Americans are experiencing an extreme difficulty today and we have a message for them: we not only think of you and pray for you today but we also pledge our support in the future. Burr also opined that his Party's proposed Platform was about building a better America, not building a bigger Government.
Congressman McCarthy then returned to the rostrum to move the adoption of the 2008 Republican Party Platform and such adoption was approved by the Convention viva voce.
Next, a delegate from Delaware moved a resolution confirming the members of the Republican National Committee, which was approved viva voce; then, a delegate from Wisconsin moved a resolution expressing appreciation for the organizers and hosts of the 2008 Republican Convention as well as providing for the eventual publication of a Journal of the Convention's Official Proceedings, also approved viva voce.
To the lusty cheers of the assembled, First Lady Laura Bush now took to the podium: Our first priority now, today, is to assure the safety and the well-being of those living in the Gulf Coast region... The effect of Hurricane 'Gustav' is just now being measured; when such events occur, we are reminded that, first, we're all Americans and that our shared American ideals will always transcend political Parties and partisanship.
At the same time, however, Mrs. Bush also noted that each of the Governors from those Gulf Coast States: they're all strong leaders... they also all happen to be Republicans.
The First Lady then introduced a series of videotaped messages to the Convention (and, by extension, all Americans) from the (yes, Republican) Governors from 4 of the 5 States affected by the hurricane (Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal was, understandably, the busiest of the five and, obviously, could not take time out from his responsibilities as the Pelican State's Chief Executive at the very height of the storm to tape such a message)-- these being, in order: Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Governor Bob Riley of Alabama, Governor Charlie Crist of Florida and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Any partisanship in these messages ranged from the overt (Governor Perry saying, of his fellow Gulf State chief executives, You're seeing Republican Governors- in, I think, Republican States- doing a fabulous job of taking care of their citizens-- that's what we do) to the nonexistent (Governor Crist not even making any mention whatsoever of his Party-- in fact saying, instead, I was reminded, again, of the resilience and strength of our people, the kindness they extend to one another- neighbor helping neighbor, asking not what Party you are: but, instead, how you can help. That's just what we can bring, in many ways, in times of great need).
After this series of videos, Mrs. Bush brought Cindy McCain, wife of the Party's presumptive nominee, out onto the stage (the cheers for her from the Convention nearly rivaled- but not quite!- those for Mrs. Bush herself). Repeating her husband's own words when it was, the day before (Sunday 31 August), first announced that today's Convention session would primarily be a "business only" session with no "speechifying" (although, as can be seen in this account, there were at least a few "partisan moments", even in this session, here and there-- but it would have been rather difficult to avoid such a thing in any event at a Party's own National Convention, even under these circumstances), Mrs. McCain noted that This is a time when we take off our Republican hats and put on our American hats, after which she asked people to go to www.CauseGreater.com if they wished to help those suffering as a result of Hurricane 'Gustav'.
Mrs. Bush, noting that Americans are known for coming to the aid of their fellow citizens, asked that people- regardless of political Party or lack thereof- contribute to organizations aiding the citizens of the five States affected, at least in part, by the hurricane-- these (coordinated by the Aid Matrix Foundation) being: www.servealabama.gov; www.floridadisasterfund.org; www.aidmatrixnetwork.org (for Louisiana); www.mississippirelief.com; www.texasresponds.org.
After this, the Benediction was offered by Father Joseph Johnson of the Cathedral of St. Paul in the host city, after which Chairman Duncan returned to the podium to entertain a motion. A delegate from North Dakota moved that, in deference to our friends in the Gulf States, the Convention adjourn temporarily, subject to the call of the Chair (in other words, a date and time for reconvening was not specifically included). This was approved by the Convention viva voce at 5:05 PM local time (6:05 PM Eastern Time [2205 UTC]) and this rather odd first day of the 39th Republican National Convention came to an end.