Between a Crook and a Hard Place

The first time I voted in a governmental election was during college, which, as it happens, was in New Orleans at Tulane University. In the national election of 1992, we of course had Bush père and Bill Clinton. On campus, (and I can only assume elsewhere), the major argument against Clinton was that he lacked character. Personally, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the elder Bush, but it was amazing to me — and I mean “jaw dropping” — that the mantra of Clinton supporters on campus essentially became “Character Doesn’t Matter!” I mean, come on… “character matters” is one of those self evident truths we hear about, isn’t it? How can you trust someone to lead you, to hold authority over you, if they lack character? Isn’t the very meaning of the word “character” essentially “can be trusted”?* I was surrounded by a large number of people who didn’t bat an eyelash voting for someone who, by their own admission, couldn’t be trusted, so long as he said he supported what they wanted. Character Didn’t Matter.

Puzzling though the national election was, I found the local elections far more interesting. On one side was a certain Edwin Edwards, otherwise known as “the Crook”. By “crook” I mean that the man was crookeder than <insert something really, really crooked here>. He was known for his bribe-taking and propensity for kickbacks and corruption of every type.* Nobody really wanted the man in office.

The other guy was David Duke. Now doesn’t the choice just seem obvious? Louisiana politics is worse than Chicago politics!

I didn’t know anybody who even considered voting for Duke, (and to be honest, Edwards did seem to be the lesser of the two evils). Until one day, I actually stumbled across someone who though Duke was the “lesser evil” and was voting for the man. “How can you vote for him?” I asked. This I had to hear.

“Well,” he said, “if Edwards is elected, he’s going to be just as corrupt as ever. If Duke is elected, he is going to be under such close scrutiny, all the time, that he won’t be able to get away with anything. Corruption is easy, but it’s harder to pass a racist law without people noticing.”

It was the first reasonable reason I had ever heard for supporting Duke. It almost had me. In retrospect, of course, the argument was self defeating. The only reason he would be so closely scrutinized was because he was reviled. For the same reason, of course, he wasn’t getting elected any time soon. Edwards won in a landslide.

The baffling thing to me was, how could a state not have anybody better than this running for governor? Everyone I knew hated both men, so how did they ever make the ticket? It seemed almost to the extent that if I had run, I could have beaten these Bozos. So they end up with the most corrupt Governor in the Union. (Edwards, by the way, is currently serving time in Federal Prison).

I look at the news surrounding New Orleans recently, and some startling things are coming out of it. In a nutshell, it comes down to this:

  • Everybody knew that, sooner or later, New Orleans was going to be hit by a big hurricane (Cat 4 or 5).
  • Everybody knew that, as things stood, such a storm would be disasterous.*
  • The politicians in Louisiana and New Orleans didn’t do anything to avert the disaster that virtually everybody knew was coming.
  • New Orleans’ own emergency evacuation plan outlined the large poor (mostly black) population that would have to be actively assisted in evacuating.
    • This plan was almost entirely ignored when it all actually hit the fan.
    • The very people who were specified as requiring help evacuating were the ones who packed the Superdome and NOLA convention center because they were not evacuated.
  • Among other after-the-fact screw-ups, the Louisiana Dept. of Homeland Security (a state agency, not part of the Federal agency) blocked Red Cross trucks full of food and water who were trying to get to the Superdome in the first days after the storm. This was happening as Mayor Nagin was on national TV demanding to know where all the food and water was.

Somewhat less universally accepted, but no less true:

  • These necessary preparations were the responsibility of the Louisiana and New Orleans governments, not George Bush*

So I guess the point of all this is that when it all came down, New Orleans was woefully unprepared for a disaster they all knew were coming. That the city is underwater may have been unavoidable, but the level of human suffering was completely avoidable. The rampant corruption of the state and city politics had a lot to do with this, as the politicians were too interested in kickbacks to actually spend time making sure things would run smoothly (or, in fact, at all) during an emergency. The negligence here is absolutely criminal.

It’s no wonder that the Mayor and Governor are screaming and pointing fingers at FEMA and the President (and each other). They have a lot to answer for.

* A quick check at Dictionary.com gives us: “Moral or ethical strength”, which is close enough for scratch.

* I recently read in a Southerner’s blog that if you wanted to put in a Casino in New Orleans, all you had to do was go to Edwards’ house and lose $10,000 playing poker. “Best damned poker player who ever lived.” Sorry, I can’t find the link.

* Literally weeks before Katrina hit, I read an article that some scientists were positing it might only take a Cat 3 hurricane to breach the levees and flood the city.

* Especially as these preparation have been neglected for decades. It’s not as though everything was hunky-dory until seven years ago or something; the timing of the storm was a pure roll of the dice.

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