By Chez Pazienza: It really makes me feel old: Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew striking my hometown of Miami, Florida. Andrew was the first big story I covered in the TV news business; I was only 22-years-old at the time. The monster storm -- a Cat 5 -- cut a devastating swath through South Florida, veering at the last minute from its projected path and ramming directly into southwestern Miami-Dade County suburbs like Cutler Ridge, Saga Bay and Homestead. When it was all over, 65 people were dead and it was dubbed the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. While Andrew indeed caused catastrophic damage, leveling entire communities, wiping them clean as if they'd never even existed, I had to admit at the time that covering the story of the hurricane's approach, impact and aftermath was exhilarating; it was the first time I did something in the news business that made me feel like the career I had chosen actually mattered, like I could make a difference. Unfortunately, precious few stories in its wake would leave me with the same sense of satisfaction and purpose.
I bring this up because once again it looks as if a hurricane could soon be bearing down on Florida; this one's name is Isaac. As of this writing, it's only a tropical storm with sustained winds of about 40 miles-an-hour, but that's expected to change over the next couple of days. As a former South Florida news guy, and someone who still has a lot of connection to the place, it's interesting to scroll through my Facebook and Twitter feeds and see how my friends and former coworkers in Miami TV are beginning to go through the traditional and well-practiced motions that ramp up whenever a tropical system threatens -- from the gallows humor, referring to the possible trajectory of the storm, as designated by the National Hurricane Center, as the "cone of overtime," to the photos taken at the inevitable live shots from one Home Depot or another, to the general tone of concern for safety and property.
The story of Isaac, however, regardless of the path the storm eventually takes, includes one very special variable that's inescapable: It has the potential to affect the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa. The latest news reports say that it's highly likely the storm will either hit Tampa directly or at least brush it, to the point where contingency plans are being put in place and decisions are being made as to whether to go on with the convention as planned or adjust the schedule, canceling some events, rescheduling or moving others. Obviously, having lived through a couple of hurricanes in my lifetime, the most powerful and memorable being Andrew, I don't want to see a giant storm make landfall anywhere, particularly not in Florida, where my family and close friends still live. But at the risk of sounding ghoulish, I have to admit that there's something wonderfully karmic -- and undeniably ironic -- about the idea of the GOP having its biggest party crashed by a hurricane.
Ahead of the convention, a draft of the 2012 Republican platform, which will by all accounts be officially adopted in full, is being circulated throughout the media -- and to call it draconian, mean-spirited and almost shockingly intolerant would be an understatement on par with saying that Mitt Romney has some money. The document makes it inarguably clear that the GOP plans to firmly establish its intention to continue being the party of white, straight, fundamentalist Christian men and no one else. The platform seeks to ban abortion across the board, even in the case of rape or incest; it supports states that have attempted to order women to undergo mandatory ultrasounds before receiving abortions; it denounces same-sex marriage and doesn't recognize gay couples; it pushes Arizona-style anti-immigration laws; it looks to reverse the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and forbid women from assuming combat roles in the military; it is, without question, the most conservative platform the GOP has ever adopted, staggering in its in-your-face extremism. It's what the Republican Party stands for in the year 2012 -- but it reads like it came right out of 1812. To its immense credit, the GOP is leaving no doubt what it's all about and what it wants for the country, making the choice in November crystal clear.
With that in mind, and when you consider the fact that the religious right which the modern Republican party has aligned itself with and is beholden to regularly sees the hand of God in natural occurrences, it somehow seems appropriate that a very big storm could pound the Republican National Convention next week. I don't believe any of the nonsense the hyper-Christian contingent subscribes to, but the irony is inescapable -- and somewhat delicious. The modern incarnation of Republicanism embraces Christ and denies science and man-made climate change, which makes me wonder -- should Isaac become the kind of ferocious storm that used to be an aberration but which we've seen far too many of over the past several years -- exactly where they'll be willing to place blame if they get inundated to the point where their big party is interrupted by evacuation sirens and Emergency Broadcast System signals. Would they accept, after the hottest month on record and after being hit by an unusually sizable storm, that maybe we're screwing up the planet's environment? Or would they be willing to consider the possibility that God just hates the crap they're pulling, the intolerance and cruelty they seek to heap upon their fellow man and woman, and the way they justify all kinds of rotten behavior and backward thinking in his name?
Or this time around, would it simply be nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence -- and not a well-deserved chastening from on high for being such colossal pricks?
Let's hope Isaac misses Florida completely. But if it does in fact hit Tampa next week, let's at least hope the GOP and the right in general see it through the prism they so often do: as retribution. Maybe then something good can come from all that destruction.