Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lolis Eric Elie Gets it Wrong

Sorta. In a recent column he wrote:
During the years when black lawyers, engineers, architects and consultants were shut out of doing business with the city, white politicians were free to hand out the spoils of office to their friends. Neither white voters, nor the white politicians they elected, seemed to find this problematic.

Why are the rules of the game suddenly changing?

Mr. Elie seems to be stating the conventional wisdom among those who find the inspector general ordinance racist rather than his own opinion, but he doesn't seem to feel the need to challenge that particular piece of CW. Fact is, that particular piece of CW is just plain wrong. Like I've said before, New Orleans has had the same reform movements as other cities. If you remember your American history, most of the effort to reform institutions came during the Progressive Era. Between WWII and Watergate, "good government" efforts mainly concentrated on finding the right candidates. Institutional reform didn't come back into vogue until the 1970's. By the time institutuinal reforms like establing an IG's office were popular anywhere, whites were losing power in New Orleans. The only difference in New Orleanians and residents of other cities is that we've been more easily, or willingly, fooled by fake reformers.

That seems to still be the case. Others have pointed out that the IG's office was approved by a majority of both blacks and whites during the Morial administration. More recently, the winner of the city council election in the city's most racially balanced district appealed to both blacks and whites as a reformer. The home page of his campaign website prominently said:

"no more business as usual"

I guess the italics and quotation marks were to make doubly sure that we understood he was quoting somebody rather than making a promise. Before he sucessfully watered down the inspector general office, this breath of fresh air showed that he thinks the new council should be able to spend money as freely as the old:
Council sources said later that of the three temporary nonvoters, only Carter had real reservations about Fielkow's proposal, which Fielkow was able to resolve.

Some things haven't changed much at all since "the days when white politicians were free to hand out the spoils of office to their friends."

Of course Mr. Elie usually gets more things right than he does wrong -- his column doesn't appear on the op-ed page. He's absolutely correct that the city council member behaved no differently than politicians anywhere else in insisting on control over the very office that's charged with policing the city council.

Just to be clear, of course residents of the city and the state have historically been somewhat more tolerant of corruption than residents of other parts of the country; I wouldn't be foolish enough to suggest otherwise. But it's a gross exaggeration to say that there's never been any concern whatsoever. Even the Edwards era was interrupted by the election of two reform governors.

Elie's column was terrible, and an insult to reformers, white and black. I e-mailed him Saturday and told him so (he has not replied).
I was born in 1946, the year that a white WW2 hero successfully ran a reform campaign with organized reform support to oust a white machine-politics Mayor. Reform movements always emerge as a counter-force to corrupt regimes. The race or ethnic background of the corrupt is not the issue.
why you taking imaginary creole people so serious?
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