Saving New Orleans, saving ourselves 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, President George W. Bush gave a nationally televised speech in New Orleans’ Jackson Square and said “We will do what it takes.”

One year later, New Orleans and the Gulf Coast remain in critical condition.

According to a report by the Institute for Southern Studies, tens of thousands of residents in the region still don’t have homes. Aid for homeowners in Louisiana and Mississippi was approved 10 months after the storms, but none has been disbursed. The rebuilding of rental units also has stalled, causing rents to skyrocket. Eighty percent of public housing in New Orleans is still closed, despite minimal storm damage, and three coastal facilities in Mississippi will be shut down soon.

Only 57 of the 117 public schools that existed in New Orleans before Katrina are scheduled to open for the new school year, which will prevent many families from returning.

And the recovery is plagued by contracting scandals and other special-interest dealings, including $136.7 million in corporate fraud. Government investigators also have highlighted contracts worth $428.7 million that are troubling due to lack of oversight or misappropriation. One study found that corporate contracting abuse has cost taxpayers 50 times more than widely-publicized scandals involving individuals wrongfully collecting assistance.

Another obvious challenge is the environmental degradation caused by the disaster. Residents in the region continue to be exposed to a wide range of toxins, and federal officials have yet to commit the resources to restore coastal wetlands, which are the area’s best defense against future storms.

All of this amounts to a serious failure of leadership. Most troubling is that it is a willful failure. After all, does anyone doubt that Bush could assemble the resources and direct a full-scale recovery if he was determined to do so?

This is the same man who used the full power of the U.S. military to invade Iraq under false pretenses and over the objections of most other nations, and who refuses to remove our forces despite the overwhelming expense and the worsening situation there. In other words, when he wants to do something, he finds a way.

Instead, his administration has absolved itself of responsibility and shifted the blame entirely to state and local officials.

“You never ever want the state or local governments to fail in their response,” James Lee Witt told me. “That means the federal government didn’t do a good job through preparedness training and exercise.”

Witt directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under President Bill Clinton and is universally regarded as the most capable person to have held that position.

He also said FEMA was “handicapped” by the Bush administration.

“It was minimized in program dollars,” Witt said. “People with experience and capability were moved to other positions. It drained FEMA and left it in a weaker position.”

In that sense, the Katrina experience is merely a microcosm of Bush’s approach to governing. He has drained and weakened government in service to an ideology that doesn’t believe in government.

He’s actually pulled off the ultimate parlor trick, turning every fiasco into the ultimate justification for his actions. Bush can remove the resources from government, causing it to fail, and then use that failure to call for further cuts that will weaken government even more.

You can see that pattern in No Child Left Behind, which offers no help to underperforming schools, and instead puts them on a track to lose funding, accelerating their downfall. You can see it in Bush’s health care reforms, which simply shift the burden to the states, ensuring less money for basic services and eventual wholesale cuts. And that is where he wants to go with Social Security, diminishing it to the point where no one will come to depend upon it.

In fact, that may be the perfect encapsulation of the Bush philosophy: diminishing government to the point where no one will come to depend on it. But it’s one thing to hope for a world where no one needs assistance of any kind. It’s quite another to be indifferent to the suffering caused by the pursuit of a vision such as this.

One of the few major forces outside Bush’s control — the weather — stepped in to prove that there are some challenges only a government can confront effectively. Bush’s insensitive refusal to concede this point has resulted in poverty, cultural erosion and lost hope. Unless the nation unites to respond to those challenges, it will be haunted by Katrina forever.

The salvation of New Orleans is truly our own.



Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • The assault on Obamacare begins

    Donald Trump Friday night signed an executive order directing government to scale back Obamacare to the extent possible. Though the signing was mostly symbolic, it likely has implications for Arkansas.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • Two dead in North Little Rock shooting

    two people were fatally wounded about 9 p.m. Friday in a home in the 1400 block of Division Street, North Little Rock.
    • Jan 21, 2017
  • 2nd Amendment meets the 1st in Fayetteville on campus carry

    They've had a forum in Fayetteville today on Rep. Charlie Collins' fervent desire to force more pistol-packing people onto the campus at the University of Arkansas (and every other college in Arkansas.) He got an earful from opponents.
    • Jan 20, 2017
  • More »

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Watch the trailer for 'Shelter,' the Renaud Bros. new doc on homeless kids in New Orleans

    Check out the trailer for "Shelter," the Renaud Bros. new feature-length documentary about homeless teens navigating life on the streets of New Orleans with the help of Covenant House, the longstanding French Quarter shelter for homeless kids.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »


1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • What? That was all made up? Oh my. Well, let's hope he gets busy on…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Pssst - Lyons plans to pen a column on why the donors stopped giving to…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • The funniest thing about all this is that Lyons never said that Russia invaded anyone…

    • on January 22, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation