WALKING A FINE LINE…. Where some see a crisis, others apparently see an opportunity.

As unintended consequences go, Hurricane Gustav does present some political opportunities for Mr. McCain. He looked like a man in charge on television Sunday as he described meeting with Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and federal disaster officials. […]

In St. Paul, the McCain campaign chartered a plane to fly a dozen members of the Louisiana delegation home and created a Gulf states briefing committee, made up of top Republican officials from the region.

What’s more, “Mr. McCain appeared on television with a semi-presidential bearing, briefing Americans on emergency preparations and calling on the nation to put aside partisanship.”

I’m curious about something. John McCain has been in Congress for about a quarter of a century. There have been plenty of hurricanes and other natural disasters, some of them horrific and devastating, during that time.

Exactly how many times, throughout his lengthy congressional career, has McCain felt compelled to visit emergency-response teams in advance of a disaster, form briefing committees on the eve of the disaster, and return to the scene of the disaster immediately afterwards?

If the answer is “zero,” it certainly suggests McCain’s new-found interest in natural disasters may have something to do with political opportunism.

John McCain doesn’t have a background in emergency response or disaster relief. None of the people working on the ground answer to him directly, so it’s not like he can give orders or manage the response. Indeed, there’s literally no reason at all to think McCain will be in a position to help recovery efforts in any substantive way.

So, what’s the justification? We can probably guess the actual reason, but I’m wondering what the official line is.

If the answer is, “Because he cares,” that’s not exactly compelling. As I suspect even McCain would concede, everyone cares. A hundred senators, 435 House members, the White House, and 301 million Americans care.

There has to be some other official explanation. I’m just wondering what it is.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.