Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

What Happened to Jeff Crouere?

When I lived in N'Awlins, while he was still on the air, I loved listening to local pundit Jeff Crouere (rooughly "crew-EAR"). A fierce conservative who nevertheless took all necessary shots at the Bush administration, he also gave me a better look at local politics than his competition. (Then for some reason he quit, or was fired, and replaced by a sports show, and the station lost a listener for two hours). The nickname Kathleen "Committee" Blanco was coined on Crouere's show, if I recall correctly. [Update: the wife tells me it may have been Rob Hunter and/or Shane Warner who came up with that].

Anyway, the guy still writes for and I think still has a television show. And my wife, who has been reading a lot more about Katrina than I have the stomach for, tells me his recent columns suggest the man has lost it.

She will be posting an [essay based on an] e-mail she wrote to him as a guest-poster on this site in my absence (I pulled an all-nighter last night, so no content from me). Let me just add that Crouere's freak-out helps me understand why Ray Nagin is going into full-on television freak-out meltdown mode (for example, predicting that CIA might try to assassinate him) -- these are people I liked and respected before Katrina, who have seen their families and friends lose their homes in one of the most distinctive cities in America, felt the same powerlessness I've felt on a far more direct level, and are letting tragedy get the better of them. That's the thing about tragedy -- more than anything else, a tragedy tends to reveal character as some rise to the occasion, and some are brought low by it.

By Mrs. SobekPundit:

This past week has been a horrific tragedy to watch unfold, although I know it has been much more difficult for those who are locals than for me. My family moved out of New Orleans three and a half months ago, having lived there for three years. With this in mind, I have been following fairly closely the local pundits, politicians and paper (The Times Picayune) and have been very disappointed in what I have been hearing.

For people who normally have no problem pointing out the many flaws of their own city and state, I have been very surprised to hear not only blame pushed almost entirely at the federal government, but at President Bush personally. Jeff Crouere, a native New Orleanian, talk show host and conservative pundit, left me seriously wondering after I read two of his recent columns. In his September 5 column, Bush, Federal Government Failed New Orleans, Crouere actually criticizes President Bush for remaining on vacation for two days after the hurricane, which reminds me of the silly and baseless criticism of him for continuing to read to schoolchildren for several minutes after the attacks on 9-11. The Times Picayune Editorial Board’s published opinion, An open letter to the President, September 4, asks questions of President Bush that should rather be directed toward Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco, such as: "...why weren’t [those inside the Superdome] evacuated out of the city immediately?" and, "...what did state and national officials think would happen to tens of thousands of people trapped inside with no air conditioning, overflowing toilets and dwindling amounts of food, water and other essentials?" I am curious why the paper does not ask that of the person who put them there in the first place. The paper takes the feds to task for not having buses and gas at the ready immediately after the storm. It has been pointed out that the city’s school and transit buses could have been filled with gas and moved to higher ground in preparing for the storm, but the Times Picayune does not ask why those buses (which could have evacuated 12,000 citizens per fleet run) were rather left by Ray Nagin to be flooded. U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, was quoted in the Times Picayune on September 2nd as saying, "I thank the President for his visit today, but it was more show than substance. Frankly, we needed action days ago."

Much of the criticism I am hearing relates to a pattern of neglect by the U.S. Congress and the President’s administration toward Louisiana; much of this criticism is warranted. The local city and state governments could not have funded the coastal restoration, levee improvement and flood control hurricane protection projects all on their own, and it is tragic that so much pork went to other states when Louisiana so desperately needed those appropriations. Though such criticism is legitimate, it can be spread over more administrations than just the current one and most certainly directed at more individuals than just George W. Bush. What really irks me is that along with this criticism, local politicians and pundits are also claiming that the federal government should have been practically perfect in every aspect in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane. That is just ridiculous.

Most people with a brain (excluding liberal big government types, of course) know that the federal government is way too bloated with bureaucracy and just so over extended in general for it to be 100% at the ready whenever a disaster of this magnitude occurs. Come on. It is not like the National Guard are robots waiting in some storage unit to be instantly zapped to the scene like something you would see on Star Trek. They are people with jobs and families who have to be called up and physically brought in from all over the country; understandably that is going to take a couple of days. Government, just like everything and everyone else is not perfect and improves, at least hopefully, by making mistakes and then learning from them. To suggest that everyone who had anything to do with the federal response should be fired is just ridiculous. And yes, the Times Picayune actually suggested just that when it said: "Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially," in its September 4th opinion. Let me ask this of the Times Picayune Editorial Board: Do you actually expect the new guys to do a perfect job the first time they are presented with a crisis of this magnitude? Could you?

Along with dumping all blame on Bush and the feds though, I am also hearing prominent locals practically refuse to point out any mistakes made at local levels. Louisiana and New Orleans are wonderful places with so much to recommend them, but it is no secret that there are historical and current themes of both corruption and incompetence that permeate the government at both the city and state levels. Such blatant corruption and incompetence is the main reason the city and state were in such a sorry condition before Katrina even struck. It is because of these things that the local economy was so bad and the city and state needed to depend so heavily on the federal government for the necessary funding anyway. Which funding, I might add, was often uselessly whittled away or simply stolen. This was the case in many local government departments (i.e. the school board was known to have millions of dollars just vanish into thin air while it could not even pay its teachers on a timely basis), but especially pertinent to the circumstance at hand is that the New Orleans levee board itself was under investigation for corruption long before Katrina formed in the Gulf. The head of the FBI in New Orleans just this past year described the state's public corruption as "epidemic, endemic, and entrenched. No branch of government is exempt." Just as questions should be asked concerning current and past presidents’ and congresses’ neglect of Louisiana with federal appropriations, so should questions be asked about how competently the city and state would have handled such appropriations based on their pathetic record.

While neither Blanco nor Nagin is responsible for all of New Orleans' current problems, they both dropped the ball when it came to adequately preparing the city for a disaster of this scale, yet local voices claim that the federal government should have done a near perfect job of just that. Crouere argues that local leaders, Nagin and Blanco particularly, have "acted admirably" since well before the hurricane hit, and did an exemplary job of warning residents to evacuate. But both knew that tens of thousands of people did not have the most basic means of doing so. In fact, the state and city’s own established plans projected that 300,000 people would need transportation in order to evacuate in the event of a hurricane like Katrina. Oh right, the city and state just make the plans, but the feds are supposed to execute them...uh huh. Local officials also knew that most of those people would not have a clue what to do once disaster struck or have even meager survival supplies on hand because they have relied on government assistance for their entire lives anyway. When you breed government dependance, rather than promote self-reliance, that is what you get...what else can you expect when something like this happens? And New Orleans had way more than its fair share of dependants; the poverty and unemployment rates in the city were simply staggering: roughly 25% and 50%, respectively. That can not be blamed on the federal government or on President Bush.

All preparation or lack thereof aside, at whatever level, the most significant, and certainly the most easily avoidable mistake, that both Blanco and Nagin made after disaster struck was the simple lack of basic leadership. Even without all of the resources they lacked, they could and should have simply been resolute beacons for people to look to and sustained at least a basic level of dignity. Rather, they faded in and out of the scene, popping up to cuss out the feds and the president or to simply crumble in a panic or pity party. True leadership is best seen during difficult times, when it inspires and instills confidence and hope, not fear and despair (i.e. George Bush, Rudy Giuliani). Both Nagin and Blanco gave the impression that Louisiana and New Orleans were incapable of anything without the President himself holding their hands and passing them tissue. The city and state appear just as dependent on the federal government as half of New Orleans' residents had been on their welfare checks. Sadly this is just the mentality down there. Neither Blanco nor Nagin showed any confidence in themselves, which thus contributed to their inability to hold things at least somewhat together while they waited for the feds to arrive. Certainly this contributed to the city’s quick slide into anarchy. Their hopelessness and despair fed that same attitude to locals, as well as their instinct to deny any culpability and pass all blame on to higher, farther removed levels. I did not notice Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour acting in such an uncouth and desperate manner while his suffering citizens were waiting for federal aid to arrive.

All of this has come across horribly to the rest of the country, all the while the rest of the country has been writing personal checks and scores of private individuals have been rushing to the scene to help. Many local leaders and pundits claim that the country has neglected and forgotten Louisiana in her time of need just because the federal response was not as quick as it could have been. Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard said this: "We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast. But the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history." Crouere said: "We have helped those impacted by the Asian tsunami, the 9/11 disaster, now it is time to help the city and state that has generously supported this nation time and time again. So far the response from the national government has been disgraceful. It is time for massive action before thousands more die." From the Times Picayune: "We, who are from New Orleans, are no less American than those who live on the Great Plains or along the Atlantic Seaboard. We’re no less important than those from the Pacific Northwest or Appalachia. Our people deserved to be rescued. No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced." The tone of these statements seem to convey the idea that the rest of the country could have cared less about what was happening in New Orleans, or that the federal government and FEMA purposefully took their time in helping the city because they just did not think New Orleans or its people were worth saving. Frankly, that is preposterous. Millions of private citizens throughout the nation have been riveted to the news, talking amongst themselves about New Orleans’ plight and what they could do to help, praying for the city and its people, and making personal financial sacrifices to help with the relief efforts. I am so sorry to say that New Orleans has come across as very ungrateful for all that has been done, simply because the federal government did not save the city from on high from sudden and incalculable destruction. It is the people I have quoted here who are mainly responsible for the negative and ungrateful tone coming from New Orleans; I want to stress that I have no doubt that most of the city’s evacuees are actually very grateful and gracious in their response to the outpouring of love and relief by their fellow Americans. In fact, I have heard and read of many of them expressing just such views. It is sad that the local politicians and pundits are creating a skewed picture in this regard. I have heard but one example of sincere thanks from a source other than the actual evacuees, the Times Picayune’s September 5 opinion, With Much Thanks.

It is not that I think the federal government has done an exemplary job in responding to the crisis that has become New Orleans; I am simply dumbfounded that New Orleans expected them to. Local leaders of any major city must realize that the federal government can never be the first responders to a calamity such as this, and expecting them to be is plain foolishness. That does not mean that the federal government does not have a role to play in the aftermath of such disasters. It does, as it should, have an enormous role as only it has the necessary resources and reach to bring in relief on such a grand scale. But they should not be depended upon as first responders or to be the executers of city and state emergency plans. Such micro management by the federal government of every potential disaster that could befall every major American city is neither a realistic nor a comforting idea. From what I have seen, FEMA and other federal agencies and officials have most certainly made some big mistakes and have some answering to do, but my focus here is not what the federal government has done wrong, but rather the local leaders' refusal to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

Perhaps because those I have been hammering on have also gotten flack from elsewhere for their efforts to scapegoat the president and the feds in a sheepish attempt to hide their own faults, they have just barely come out with some token statements of minor culpability at the local level. Not until yesterday did the Times Picayune concede: "Let’s be clear: Officials in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana are hardly blameless in this tragedy." Of course they then spend only a precious few sentences expounding on this thought. Crouere finally admitted yesterday: "despite my focus on DHS and FEMA, I don’t believe New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin or Blanco are blameless in this tragedy. Ironically, this statement came just one day after he said, "I have criticized Governor Blanco on numerous occasions, but in this tragedy, she is not the one to blame." Apparently he received a lot of criticism for that column, including one email from me.

To those I have been taking to task: I am so sorry for your loss. I feel it is my loss too, though certainly to a lesser degree. New Orleans was my home for three years. Both of my precious children were born there. I still had many friends there. I think that because the loss is so much greater and the devastation so much more complete for you though, that you have lost a true sense of objectivity. That is what I have tried to convey here. I hope with time the hurt, anger and bitterness will fade and some objectivity will return. Otherwise New Orleans will never be better.

The Times Picayune has charged: "Mr. President, we sincerely hope you fulfill your promise to make our beloved communities work right once again." Crouere says: "President Bush should take a leadership role to make sure this great city is rebuilt. He needs to embark on a national initiative to recreate New Orleans and make it a top national priority. Hopefully, guilt caused by neglect of this great city will motivate Congress and federal government officials to join in the rebuilding process." I contend that if New Orleanians depend on George Bush, the federal government, the rest of the country or anyone else to make sure New Orleans returns to greatness, then it never will. Sure, all of these entities and individuals want to and will help, but in the end it is up to the people of New Orleans. Otherwise, the city will not return to greatness; it will simply return to the same mediocre, problematic city with a stagnant economy and corrupt and incompetent government. The truth is harsh sometimes. You have to admit your mistakes in order to learn from them, and it looks like New Orleans and the state of Louisiana have a long way to go.

I love New Orleans and its people, and I want it to become greater than it was. This is why I have been so critical here; the city, its people and leaders must overcome their past mistakes for this to happen. The things I have been hearing are working to the detriment of a better New Orleans. I just hope and pray that some true leaders will rise up amidst the swamp and rubble and take the charge. It will take courage, as it always does to address one’s own faults, but in the end a truly better New Orleans can flourish.