Part of the candidate blogger series for Obama: I'm not associated with the campaign, and the views expressed are my own.
Hurricane Katrina was a devastating natural catastrophe but seemed, at least at the time, to have the potential to be a defining moment in American politics. We were shamed before the world. A system clearly showed itself to be in collapse.
It had the potential to be a moment when Americans finally realized what decades of a lack of investment and a libertarian governing philosophy popularized by Goldwater and Reagan have wrought in our infrastructure; when the lid finally came off the neglect and chaos of our inner cities; and when Americans realized that the emergency planning of this administration consisted mainly in notifying those with means that they should pack up their SUVs and leave.
Katrina seemed, briefly, to have that potential. Shockingly however, the Bush response to Katrina focused on only further eroding government protections: suspending prevailing wage laws, handing out massive private contracts without oversights, and even the proposal to hand out vouchers instead of rebuilding schools. Democrats were not in a position to set the agenda or pass legislation.
Paradoxically, Republicans seemed to blame their own ineptitude on the failures of government generally and indeed they demonstrated the crippling and devastating slowness and bureaucratic redtape of which government bureaucracy is capable --- under a total and utter lack of leadership. Report after report has detailed the extraordinary mismanagement and delay of much of the funds provided to the region.
Obama in 2006:
You know, we all remember that George Bush said in 2000 campaign that he was against nation-building. We just didn't know he was talking about this one.
Now, let me say this - I don't think that George Bush is a bad man. I think he loves his country. I don't think this administration is full of stupid people [Laughter] - I think there are a lot of smart folks in there. The problem isn't that their philosophy isn't working the way it's supposed to - the problem is that it is working exactly the way it's supposed to.
The reason they don't believe government has a role in solving national problems is because they think government is the problem. That we're better off if we dismantle it - if we divvy it up into individual tax breaks, hand 'em out, and encourage everyone to go buy your own health care, your own retirement security, your own child care, their own schools, your own private security force, your own roads, their own levees... [Laughter]
It's called the Ownership Society in Washington. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism - every man or women for him or herself.
Looking at the big picture, is it too late for Katrina to be the game-changer it might have been? To demonstrate the moral and practical bankruptcy of the Republican governing philosophy of the last thirty years? It's not really clear.
Edwards clearly recognized the symbolism and had the right instinct, choosing to announce his campaign for president in the ninth ward in December of last year. His announcement went uncovered by the media --- not entirely due to the media's studied inattention to Edwards or even to the Christmas season but instead to the timing of Gerald Ford's somewhat unexpected death and the glowing, one-sided obituries that dominated the news cycle for days.
But it was the right instinct. Every candidate should have announced their run in New Orleans, and it should be made a central storyline of the coming general election campaign. This week, with the second anniversary of Katrina, there will be another opportunity. Candidates will be visiting New Orleans. Let's take a look at what's coming of it.
The Situation Today
It's worth pausing to reflect on the situation there. Just working off of a fact sheet the Obama campaign provided with their plan. Here are some particularly telling statistics:
- The crime situation in New Orleans is out of control:
Katrina decimated the region's criminal justice system, destroying police stations and courthouses, and scattering police officers. New Orleans led the nation in murders per capita in 2006, and is experiencing a 14 percent increase in murders and 44 percent leap in armed robberies this year. Two of the city's police stations and police headquarters continue to operate out of FEMA trailers.
- New Orleans remains vulnerable to another storm. More work is need to build up the levee system and to restore the wetlands taht can naturally protect the city:
Every four miles of wetlands can absorb about a foot of a hurricane's storm surge, but Lousiana is losing about an acre of wetlands - the equivalent of three football fields - every 24 minutes.
- Due to state/local matching requirements and mismanagement, only about 40% of the $6.2 billion allocated to Lousiana by FEMA has actually been used.
- Local infrastructure is crumbling. Both hospitals:
Only one of the seven major hospitals in New Orleans is operating at pre-hurricane level; two are partially open, and the remaining four are closed. As a result, only a third of the hospital beds remain in the city.
- And school:
Fewer than half of New Orleans' schools are reopening this September.
The city's homeless population is approximately double what it was before the hurricane.
- And public transportation:
In New Orleans, only 19 percent of buses are running on 50 percent of the pre-Katrina routes.
A few days ago, Obama took the opportunity to release a plan
to rebuild New Orleans. He also took the time to highlight his work in the Senate on New Orleans. Full details here
. Press release here
. Here's take on the most interesting proposals after the jump: