Kathleen Parker

Mother Nature has a deft hand when it comes to reorganizing human perspective, as we've witnessed with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Suddenly "things" don't matter, we're reminded; only life and loved ones do.

But Mother Nature also has other talents - ripple effects and trickle-down consequences that help shape the political landscape. As she highlights our priorities, she also showcases those individuals who rise to the occasion. As well as those who don't.

Thus, Katrina and Rita may be pivotal players in determining who becomes the next president of the United States. Presidents, after all, are often elected according to the climate at a given moment, rather than by strict measures of specific skills.

President George W. Bush, despite his early days of bacchanalia (hardly a solitary pursuit among the baby-boomer generation), was a stiff shirt and straight arrow following Bill Clinton's prolonged adolescence. He was, in other words, a reaction vote for someone who promised to restore dignity to the White House. No more "little office" parties; no more Hollywood stars jumping on the Lincoln bed.

In his time, Clinton - just a warm-blooded good ol' boy from Arkansas who could feel everybody's pain (and the occasional intern) - was a reaction to the cold New England, out-of-touch George H.W. Bush, himself a kinder-gentler reaction to tough-guy Ronald Reagan, who was a reaction to a peanut farmer with a preacher streak, who was a reaction to the corrupt era of Watergate.

You get the picture. In the current climate of war and ravaging hurricanes, the lingering effects of which will be on front pages for months if not years, what sort of president might be next in line? In times of national disaster and cataclysmic events, who you gonna call?

Rudy, Rudy, Rudy - as in former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani - springs to mind. Or is it Arizona Sen. John McCain? Both men have been getting lots of buzz the past couple of weeks as Americans have been reeling from hurricanes, massive federal spending promises and leadership that makes the Keystone Cops seem like Swiss clockmakers.

Both men have been leading the short list of possible Republican presidential candidates, of course, but then Katrina and Rita came along. They were more than weather. While no one wishes to minimize or trivialize the horror of these storms, especially as people are still struggling with death and loss, there's no avoiding the inevitable political effects.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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