Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Barack Obama: Lukewarm on New Orleans

I saw presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at a town hall meeting in Durham, NH last night. I myself was not called on during the Q&A, but thankfully, another audience member did ask about New Orleans. Obama's answer was the best I’ve heard yet (meaning better than Edwards or Dodd), but that’s not saying much. Overall, I give him a C+ on the issue – short on specifics, but containing some.

(So you know what my bias is, I like Obama, but am part of the needs-more-high-level-experience crowd. I think he’ll be great in a few years, but I’m backing a different candidate for ’08. I have lots more to say about him, but this is not the blog for that. This post addresses only his stance on Katrina reconstruction, not his overall candidacy.)

The question was very straightforward – what steps would you take to rebuild New Orleans? Obama started out by saying he was in New Orleans not long ago for Committee hearings, something I wrote about at the time. Katrina, he said, reminded us of the need for government. As common as it may be to bash government, having had an experienced disaster relief bureaucrat in charge of FEMA instead of a professional gambler would have avoided much of the humanitarian disaster.

Obama took a little while, but finally got around to the actual issue of rebuilding New Orleans. He only gave one specific step, though that’s one more than Edwards or Dodd proposed. The Stafford Act, he said, requires state and local governments to pay matching disaster relief funds. This requirement was waived for New York on 9/11 and waived for Florida on Hurricane Andrew. Why, the Senator asked, hasn’t it been waived for Katrina? This is a good point – the state governments are strapped, and relieving them of their repayment burdens would go a long a way.

That was it – nothing on government incompetence, pressing housing issues, funding discrepancies between LA and MS, or crippled education and health care systems. He said there are a number of other specific steps he could talk about, but the larger issue of poverty is more important, and he’d rather tell us about that. This angered me – sir, the question was not about poverty. Poverty is a vital issue that was highlighted by Katrina, but it wasn’t the only one – government incompetence and a physically destroyed region were also highlighted, and they were the issues you were asked about. Answer the question that WAS asked, not the question that wasn’t. Obama gave direct answers to questions about gay marriage, nuclear proliferation, illegal immigration, and energy. He should have treated New Orleans the same way.

Flaws aside, Obama did give one specific step, and said there were several more. Dodd and Edwards didn’t even claim to have more unmentioned info. (A search of Obama’s website didn’t turn up those other details – I’m sure they exist, but we’re left to wonder what they are. Reminds me of President Bartlett’s secret plan to fight inflation on NBC’s West Wing!) The larger problem, however, isn’t the candidates’ lack of substance – it’s the media’s lack of attention. Press neglect of the issue is the reason so many people don’t realize New Orleans is still in bad shape. Articles on Obama’s speech from today’s Boston Globe, Manchester Union-Leader, New York Times, Associated Press, and Daily Dartmouth all fail to mention New Orleans. Manchester’s WMUR-TV does say that the question was asked, but doesn’t quote his answer. Shame on you, media. This kind of neglect is borderline criminal. Can’t this issue, which directly affects at least 3 million citizens, get at least as much attention as Mitt Romney’s religion?

Candidates on NOLA so far (I’ll blog more as I learn more):
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+
Dodd: D-

Photo Credit


doctorj2u said...

Thank you Nathan for the updates. We are just not on the radar for any of the national politicians unless there is an opportuity for a photo-op. Are we citizens of this country or not? It doesn't seem we quite rate.

DixieAmazon said...

Hello from Baton Rouge!

I hate how NOLA is being used as a political tool while the Coming Home Program is dragging.