Monday, May 15, 2006

Check the Archives

You won't find Stephanie Grace or Jarvis DeBerry (or the T/P editorial board) defending the mayor or the city during the time period that the images of flooded buses began to pervade the national consciousness. From the time of Bush's Jackson Square Speech (Sept. 15) until Marty Bahamonde's testimony before congress (Oct. 22) you find almost nothing (other than a response to Larry Craig's "culture of corruption" comments) defending the city from unfair and inaccurate criticisms.

So why do DeBerry and Grace suddenly feel so much need to defend the mayor from the charges raised in David Brinkley's new book? If they had defended the mayor, and by extension the city, when the national image of flooded buses and bumbling leadership was forming, it would at least be consistent-- DeBerry's column on the buses came much later. It seems doubly inconsistent for Grace to be writing about how Brinkley's book could help Nagin (especially so close to the election), after all she did recently write:

Maybe then there would be something to talk about other than campaign strategy. Maybe then we'd be able to compare the two candidates' strategies for saving the city.

So why does she spend her third to last column before the election, discussing how the book might affect the election? To be fair, Grace and DeBerry probably feel that it's their duty to set the record straight about the exaggerations and distortions in Brinkley's unfair criticisms. Funny, that didn't seem to be part of their job description for a minimum of five weeks in September and October.

It's always questionable enough for journalists to engage in mind reading, but in Nagin's case the mind reading seems to be combined with a tired old script that appeals to both the mayor's supporters and his critics, but that no longer stands up to close scrutiny:

the Nagin of that week was the mayor we all know: Impulsive, short on follow-through, free-wheeling with numbers, averse to bureaucracy and tedious negotiations, maddeningly tone-deaf when it comes to public relations -- but ultimately well-meaning.

As an aside, I feel compelled to ask what kind of CEO is "free-wheeling with numbers" and poor at negotiations. Oh yeah, I answered that in my last post. More importantly, I don't claim to be able to read the mayor's mind. It's entirely possible that well meaning incompetence has led to some of the recent contract decisions at city hall, or there may well be something else involved. I, for one, don't claim to know.

I certainly believe that, at the beginning, well meaning incompetence was behind the mayor's part in the FEMA trailer placement crisis, but I also believe (but don't claim to know) that it was cynical political calculation that led him to try to extend the impasse. And yes, I'm also sick of NIMBY, but I'll attempt once more (in a future post that I'll type real slow so that even the self-righteous* can understand) why NIMBY was the worst plague on both their houses situation that I've ever seen in politics at any level--worse even than the use of force resolution.

*To be fair, I might be a little quick to judge when I blame the failure to see that NIMBY was a partial rerun entirely on self-righteousness,as the following:

my wife and I bid farewell to the Uptown Isle of Denial that was our neighborhood
When we got back to town post-storm in October

from Joe Longo's op-ed piece in Friday's Picayune reminds me. There were even fewer people around than I thought to see the first episode and, of those, a relative few shared my perspective.

One thing I'll ask, sort of rhetorically, about the well-deserved criticism of Nagin, that I see when reading NOLA blogs--including yours-- (my major source of information about the Saturday election, by the way)...the "incompetent city/state leadership" idea, in my mind, was something that Team Bush kept floating (no pun intended) when it became apparent THEIR response was inadequate, incompetent...and as much by choice as anything (see, for example, this article)...could the present political rhetoric become an instance of winning the battle/losing the war? By that I mean will this cancel out the real failure of the Bush administration, and, worse, precipitate a general idea that blame should be shared at all levels of government equally?

I don't doubt some state/local decisions were not the best; however, a disaster on the scale of Katrina--particularly when we know now it was the result of poorly designed/maintained levees (a federal project) can only be alleviated by the federal government, both as a pratical liability matter AND a moral/financial one. The feds are the only entity with the resources...

Will focusing on Nagin's failures give more ammunition to general anti-NOLA political rhetoric (and a good example of that is listening to idiot Chris Matthews right now) ?

I'd be interested in your thoughts...
To some degree, yes. That's why I generally limit my criticisms to Nagin's performance post-Rita, not just post-Katrina and why it's important to keep mentioning the federal responsibility for the disaster, I did so last post.

I think that there was more urgency in the mayor's voice on TV Saturday the 27th, than in his actions, but the fact is that the city didn't have anywhere near enough time to evacuate. I don't criticize him often on his performance between the 8/26 and 09/07, partly because I think it would be counterproductive and partly because it would be 20/20 hindsight.

Still, I find it appalling that the mayor can state as an unchallenged fact that he wasted at most ten hours--he words it differently, of course. Two obvious questions--how was it only 10 hrs? How is it that a good thing? 50-60hr warning time and he says,in effect, and that he only wasted 10. I hate to give ammo, but every time I hear the mayor say that, my jaw drops.

I would suggest, though, that if Nagin is re-elected, he'll continue to give ammo. look at the front page og today's T/P:

Nagin, Blanco at odds on delay in aid
He calls state lethargic; she points to Congress
Thanks for replying. After watching the debate last night, I took some time to cool off...I can't afford a new TV, but I wanted to hurl a brick through it every time Matthews opened his pie-hole.

And thanks for pointing to the Pic article--found it online and gave it a quick glance. I'll give it a better look after posting this comment.

Like I said, my only concern is that the myth of state/local incompetence in responding might become the predominant idea in the rest of the country. Even though the reputation for political corruption/dysfunctional government here is well-deserved, the real failure is definitely on the federal level (shoot, Nagin even "stole" one of the points I mentioned in my other comment above--at one point last night he said something about Washington having "the world's biggest budget" or words to that effect.

Well, yeah. They've also got far more resources at their disposal (unfortunately, that's pretty much what they're doing with the resources: throwing them away). But since it wasn't an election year, and NOLA isn't a swing state/contested area, it received a half-hearted finger from the feds, who couldn't be bothered to save a "Democratic" city (Matthews actually pretty much defended such a decision last night--I wish Nagin, Landreiu, and Robinson(?) would've knocked him silly after that remark...or at least reminded him that this sort of ultimate spoils system of government kind of went out of fashion sometime in the late 19th century...
I think that every serious person knows that the ultimate blame for what went wrong belongs at the federal level. Conservatives might not even admit it to themselves, but they know that there was a reason why the GOP effort changed from shifting from the blame to spreading the blame around--that was the brilliance of the subtly devious house report. I wish that somebody with an audience had taken the time to dissect it. Nobody who could conceivably pored through the report as part of his job took the effort to do so, by the time I (and I assume most bloggers) got through it, it was old news. Shame, there was much to criticize--in the section on evacuation it blast the rest of the metro area for not evacuating as early as Plaquemines and lower Jefferson (I'm serious, but it did mention (in passing, in the separate section on preparation on prep)points out that they're more vulnerable and that the people there are somewhat used to evacuating. Praised Al. & MS. for ordering an evacuation on the 28th, blasted N.O. for the same--I know, there's an obvious retort to that, but there's at least two counters. I surprised that more people didn't point out that S. Fla. actually had lower compliance rates for its pre-Wilma evacuation orders than N.O--with more warning, more affluent population and our example to learn from.

Fact is, FEMA was designed to step in when state and local authorities were overwhelmed, and it had been undermined to the point that it was no longer effective. People even forget that what FEMA did well in Fla. in 2004 was hand out checks. It wasn't especially good at actual disaster response.

However (I'm not saying that you're saying this), I disagree with anybody who says that criticisms of the mayor’s post-K performance are giving ammo. Although, I generally limit my criticism to his post-K performance—other than a few specifics like the naïve cynicism that I think he showed on Meet The Press—I think there there’s nothing wrong with limited criticism of his performance during the crisis. Blatant denial is so obvious as to be counterproductive.
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