Hurricane Gustav And A Storm Of Civility

10/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

10:29 CST -- You wind your way down out of the mountains and suddenly the whole perspective shifts and you are surrounded by flatlands and tightlipped American Gothic midwesterners, rather than the freakishly tall beautiful Ur-people of the Colorado mountains. Nine hundred miles and fourteen hours from Aspen, we are in Des Moines, Iowa, the opening gate for this whole presidential mess.

Des Moines -- the small part we have seen since arriving -- goes through an odd transformation during elections. It's first the site of intense political scrutiny for the caucuses and then political oblivion for eight months and then more political scrutiny as a swing state.

I caffeinated myself absurdly this morning because we were out late watching Bob Dylan play for the Aspen Jazz festival last night. It was not so much a concert as a weird spectacle of age and celebrity gone wrong. He sounds like a man singing with a mouth full of live goldfish. I sat with a small crew of locals and played a drinking game where we took a sip every time Dylan sang a single discernible word and ended the concert disappointingly sober.

There is a sad metaphor in there somewhere: an icon of the idealist sixties when hundreds of thousands of young, reform-minded freaks swarmed the streets bellowing for change who has now turned into a depressing elderly gentleman who may or may not have any teeth. A good poet with some time on her hands could use that image to convey failed hopes or collapsed idealism or maybe just the ultimate triumph of substance over style on the left: The reform-minded freaks of my generation don't really exist with any force. They have donned suits and classy haircuts. It's tough to get a job otherwise.

When we got in tonight the news wires were abuzz with hurricane Gustav and its impact on the Republican convention. Given the many many meaningless pseudo-events that tend to hijack campaigns, it's refreshing to see the news networks actually compel the candidates to act like decent people during a crisis. A political misstep right now for either Obama or McCain would be a trainwreck (polls are still showing a dead heat nationwide with only minor changes in the swing states). The networks are furiously chattering about what might constitute a political misstep and, in a lucky turn, it's made both McCain and Obama act like civilized people. Obama is watching the gulf coast from afar rather than disrupting the local emergency workers and McCain is going to do a quick trip down to the scene prompting this extraordinarily civilized response from Obama:

"A big storm like this raises bipartisan concerns and I think for John to want to find out what's going on is fine."

Now McCain just needs to say something nice to Obama and we'll have a bizarre violation of the usual election-year September viciousness. Look what a national disaster can do for our civility! And the RNC has been all but canceled, so we could all be in for a little bipartisan kindness for a week. Or, more likely, someone will say something really hateful while I am writing this thus destroying my theory.