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.
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.