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Confessions of a Bewildered Cynic

I wanted to put down some thoughts on Monday’s Senate field hearing, something beyond the raw notes I posted, but I’m finding no clarity. On the most fundamental level, I’m simply unsure what I witnessed Monday morning.

I saw powerful politicians in nice suits. They said a lot of things that sounded very reasonable. But everything about the proceedings was in such a stark contrast to the ruined urban landscape that I live in every day. The juxtaposition is jarring.

213 N Salcedo

Something like a quarter million people are still displaced, and signs of progress are far too few. The situation is outrageous, yet outrage was not in evidence at the hearing.

Then there was the media. There were over a dozen television cameras in the chamber. Typing “Orleans” into Google News yesterday yielded a fistful of Obama headlines. Was this a case of politicians using the disaster to score points — or simply drawing further attention to the outstanding need? A bit of both, I suppose.

The whole thing seemed like a partisan show for the Democratic Party. I’m not saying it was — but that’s how it seemed. I understand Senator Vitter was invited, but he didn’t show up for whatever reason. There were no Republicans there. Headlines said Obama “blasted” the Bush administration, but frankly I thought the criticisms were extremely mild. Yet I don’t believe I heard a single word said against Blanco’s administration, which strikes me as a glaring omission.

(Whatever the tenor of the hearings, there’s no question about the radio show I sat in on Monday evening on a local Clear Channel station. Hardcore Republican partisans.)

To my surprise, Nagin made the single most substantive contribution to the day’s talk when he asked Congress to revise the Stafford Act. I have to give him props for that, despite some of the other stuff he said. I’m not enough of a policy wonk to understand all the ins and outs of the Stafford Act, but check out this write-up by Christopher Cooper of the Wall Street Journal: “In Katrina’s Wake, Where Is the Money?” (Thanks to Humid City for pointing this one out and to the Post-Gazette for providing no-registration access to the article.)

I have a deeply held cynicism regarding political types. The higher up they are, the more cynical I get. At the same time, I feel a desperate need to believe there are some good leaders out there who can help us. Much of what Obama and Landrieu and Lieberman said sounded reasonable and sincere. I want to believe. But I’m finding myself unable to rise to that challenge. The gulf between my hopes and my skepticism is so wide it’s painful.

It’s what wasn’t said that really gets me, on Monday or any other time our leaders speak. There’s no mention of anything like a Gulf Coast Civic Works Project. We experienced an unprecedented disaster. We need innovative solutions. Obama cited Chicago’s recovery from the big fire and San Francisco’s recovery from the big quake, but those were cities with strong economies before disaster struck. New Orleans was already quite weak when the levees failed. Our recovery is that much more challenging. I’m not hearing ideas from our political leaders that rise to the challenge.

I’m not much for political analysis of this sort. I’d much rather write about my cat’s newfound mousing skills.

Update: The Washington Post has an editorial on the hearing that says it well: “Everyone knows this is insanity. Nobody does anything about it.” (Thanks Mr. Melpomene.)

Published inPolitix


  1. Milo is practically full grown, still a kitten but just barely, and he’s killed three mice in the last three weeks. We’re very proud of him.


    It’s about time he started earning his keep.

  2. Carmen Carmen

    The previous discussion on sincerity and/or action recalls the NT proverb that faith without works is dead. Sincerity without action is the seed which fell to the wayside. Your cynicism of higher up politicians undoubtedly is seeded from their closed circle mentality; even if they might think a thing worthy of doing, the election and fundraising cycle demands so much of their focus (along with the media) that even their aides are working more on appearances than on implementation. Focus, please.

    By the way, I tried to get into that hearing but was literally frozen out. Since I tend to feel more like the jester in the MENSA court here in the NOLA blogosphere (you few flatterers aside), it would have been nice to sit where I know my IQ levels would have peaked against the panel(s), Mary L. perhaps aside.

    I’m not overly impressed with Obama. What I’ve heard has been too wishywashy; of course, I tend to be immune to charismatics. That being said, I have found a politician or two to be useful in my time, so I guess I’ll just defer to that ‘political will’ catchphrase that’s being bandied about lately. I sure wouldn’t want to be in that position of constantly needing to deflect stupidities (Alaskan bridges and ‘how do you feel’ questions) AND still maintain my priority list. Kudos to the few who do.

  3. Call me a cynic (yeah, go ahead), but it will only be a matter of time before Hilary trots down to New Orleans to stand on our trash heaps and make her own accusations. New Orleans has become the poster child of Republican negligence, the proof that the current administration cares more for poor Iraqis than poor Americans. I think the only thing we as New Orleanians can hope to gain from all the posturing is some reminder for the media’s viewers that we’re still here.

  4. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We need to brace ourselves in this area for our city being used as a launch pad for national pols’ campaigns and issues. Their roles will most likely consist of a lot of hot air and impassioned words, and then here we will still be.

    I will believe that these people are actually effective when I actually SEE something happening.

  5. For a bunch of people who have probably voted for the likes of Dukakis, Clinton (version 1.0), Gore (version 1.0), Nader (thanks for everything!) and Kerry, I don’t see why people are being so snarky about Obama.

    Obama’s wishywashy? He’s not strident or dogmatic, which is kind of nice, isn’t it? He’s reality-based even if he does go to church and talk that church talk. He’s articulate and intelligent and aims for political pragmatism despite being quite a lefty. I don’t see the point of drawing lines in the sand between his feet and being angry when he crosses them. I don’t like some of his stands on ethanol and coal, for example, but I also think these stands are reasonable in the context of his larger aims in terms of environmental policy.

    Being from Illinois and a political junkie loser, I started following his senatorial campaign well before his convention speech. The way that guy was able to connect with downstate farmers and Caterpillar workers and Chicago suburbanites and well, pretty much everyone in the state of Illinois (which, incidentally, is a fair representation of the country at large) blew me away. Nobody has ever done that in Illinois before. Paul Simon came close, but of course he wasn’t big in the charisma department. He’s a natural.

    So here we have a viable candidate that is more liberal than any other Democrat who has ever been nominated before, yet I keep hearing leftists whine about how he’s only been in the Senate a couple years (hmmm, I don’t recall Mr. Nader holding elective office) or he doesn’t pass one litmus test or another.

    From my point of view Obama seems to “get it,” probably better than I do. I’m fine with John Edwards, too, and maybe a couple others, but please spare me Hillary. I’d vote for her, don’t get me wrong, but #1 I’m not anxious for a return to Clintonion triangulation and #2 Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton just deeply offends my class warfare sensibilities.

    My point ultimately is we need to be practical. We don’t need a perfect candidate, we need a smart liberal who’s not a blowhard gaffe machine (see Joe Biden) can win to give us a fucking fighting chance to turn this city and country around. I have no doubt we stand no chance–zero!–with another Republican administration.

  6. I’m a partisan Democrat and on the left of that part to boot, but I’m not impressed by anything done by anyone in D.C. in response to the flood. The people who are close to the disaster are too cautiously centrist and careerist to actually do anything, which makes them little better than the GOP which could clearly give care less about New Orleans except as it presents an opportunity to hold up Blanco and Nagin to ridicule as examples of their party.

    We increasingly live in the sort of dire circustances that make people welcome military dictatorships and other extreme responses, and our political classes either applaud that turn of events or are too timid to do anything about it.

    This week was Obama’s photo op, and Lieberman came down just to prove he’s not a jerk for dropping the investigation. And yes I’m sure Hillary can’t be far behind.

  7. Michael Homan Michael Homan

    I’d add that Chicago’s fire and the San Fran quake were long before the modern insurance industry had taken hold. Get rid of unethical insurers like Allstate and Statefarm and others and New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are much further along in rebuilding.

  8. I think that the comparison should be to Detroit after the collapse of Chrysler Corporation. Huge areas of that city are still empty fields since the riots in ’67. There are miles of abandoned neighborhoods since the waves of closures and layoffs started.

    Detroit was, in some ways, the worker’s paradise. Unionisation was almost universal. Millions of people could afford to own a home. Millions could afford to send their children to colleges and universities. Their was a large, well organized, and well educated Black middle class that was poised to take on a leading role in the city.

    Nowadays, sixty percent of the city have left. Those who remain are overwhelmingly Black and very poor.

    I know that the comparison isn’t perfect. New Orleans was hit by a “natural” disaster, while Detroit was deliberately economically sabotaged. On the other hand, I was told, in advance of Katrina, that a disaster like Katrina was likely to take place in NO unless something was done. In that sense, NO seems to have been deliberately sabotaged by neglect.

    I hate to sound pessimistic, but a great American city has already been abandoned in our life time. The problems you are describing sound like the problems I saw in Detroit. I’ll admit that Detroit didn’t have the charm or the deep traditions that New Orleans has. However, I only lived there for a couple of years, more than thirty years ago, and I still draw on my experiences there. It was a city with a huge heart.

    I miss the talking Mynah bird in the downtown Woolworth’s.

  9. Carmen Carmen

    I thought Obama and Lieberman came down here together as an extension of their mentoring program. Perhaps squishywashy is a better word, less evocative of flipflopping? He really lacks in foreign policy, too firmly entrenched in a pro-Israel stance and thus unlikely to draw the kind of diplomatic advisers necessary to deflect the consequences of the Iraqi war. I think he’s fine for a pond like Illinois – said by a 25-year former resident of Chicago – but still defining himself in too many ways for anyone to get a bead on how he will play in office. That can be dangerous, just as dangerous as having someone stuck on Deciding.

    Please move the positioning away from liberalism vs. conservatism to populism vs. nationalism. I tend to be radical middle (centrist), registered Independent, but that’s mainly because of the perversion of the rhetoric over the past half a century. We’ve got to start engaging people’s thinking again, to get beyond the Rovian dianetics. 😉 Elite nationalism is where the state is the creator of the nation, not a result thereof.

    If it’s mere electability you’re worried about (and I caution you with a nod to Kerry on that), consider that it behooves Republicans to continue wartime politicking just to enable swiftboating of the “Democrat” left standing. The best countermeasure to that is the China shop policy: “you broke it, you fix it”. That not only applies to New Orleans with its “broken” levees and oil-ravaged wetlands, but also to building permanent mega-bases in a land whose culture advocates against foreigners’ military occupation of it.

  10. Garvey Garvey

    MH is right about insurers. Same goes for most regulations and regulatory agencies anymore. It took less time to build the transcontinental railroad than it will to build one 8-mile stretch of light rail in Charlotte, NC. And when the pols talk about extending the line, they speak of things like 2025 and 2030. Light rail is the biggest hoax perpetrated on the American public since One Hour Martinizing. Oops–sorry, OT. What I meant was that rules and govt do-gooders always do more harm, cause more delays, and increase costs for every project than we could even imagine.

    Extraordinary measures are called for in N.O. Seriously, if they just gave every man, woman, and child affected by Katrina a lump sum that they could do whatever they wanted with it, this whole thing would go faster, cheaper, and better than whatever clusterfarg they’re doing now. But our current system of govt is based on the model that the citizens should NOT be allowed to self-govern, that we are incapable of making our own decisions and therefore the kindly govt should step in.

  11. “To my surprise, Nagin made the single most substantive contribution to the day’s talk when he asked Congress to revise the Stafford Act.”

    That really is the big news and like rebuilding the levees correctly and making the insurance system work for New Orleans and the Gulf, it’s one of the key points (maybe Nagin picked up on it from reading the Wall Street Journal.)

    After 9/11 and Huricane Andrew, New York City and Florida got streamlined, mostly red-tape-free aid because the Stafford Act (an act designed specifically to slow down the movement of aid money) was waived.

    Bush did not waive the Stafford Act for New Orleans and the Gulf. He should have given that the need in the region is exponentially greater than what NYC and Florida faced.

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