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New York Post

 

In Gustav's Wake

September 02, 2008

By Nicole Gelinas

John McCain has responded sensibly to the threat of Hurricane Gustav—a vivid contrast to behavior at the local, state and federal levels three years ago after Katrina.

But Gustav also gives McCain the chance to make the case for a conservative approach to this issue—to show what government should and shouldn't do.

McCain was right to ditch the convention schedule, for at least the first night, as the storm approached. If he'd gone ahead with the old plans, the public might have been watching split-screen coverage of some GOP windbag going on about how his mother raised him right—along with footage of boaters rescuing stragglers from rooftops. Instead, Laura Bush had a few words of comfort for the Louisiana delegates, and the rest of day one was similarly low-key.

Yet this is a chance not only to repair the GOP's damage from Katrina, but to show how real conservative policies can be the right answer for New Orleans.

McCain can remind the country that New Orleans' biggest challenges after Katrina remain public infrastructure and public safety—two things good conservatives know how to fix. And that his brand of conservatism believes in a healthy, functioning government at all levels—not in no government or in crony government.

Katrina never had to be as bad as it was. It became a disaster because federal, state and local governments all failed to do their jobs. The feds built levees and floodwalls that didn't work, and let natural flood-protection like wetlands erode (the state and city didn't help much here, either). The local government was for years too incompetent and politically lazy to do what healthy cities do: protect its citizens' safety through good policing, prosecution and sentencing of criminals.

McCain can highlight the government's role in public infrastructure. So far, New Orleans' repaired levees (built by the Army Corps of Engineers) have held up to the flooding. While Gustav isn't strong enough to pose a full-power test, the success here shows that people can have at least modest confidence in the government's ability to do what it says it can do.

And, if the walls continue to hold, New Orleans will be a stronger city, thanks to increased confidence that it's safe to rebuild from Katrina.

But McCain can also take the opportunity to point out what government shouldn't have done—including the pork-barrel-driven construction of waterways New Orleans never needed, that don't really help it economically, but won patronage and popularity for local politicans. He should call for the removal of canals that leave the Big Easy needlessly vulnerable.

McCain can also pledge to make sure that the federal government continues the job of improving Louisiana's flood controls, including wetlands restoration, over the next few years, without wasting money but without skimping, either. (And if there are parts of New Orleans the feds can't protect at reasonable cost, they should say so, so people can plan for that, too.)

Then there's public safety. Looting and violence—including the shooting of one New Orleans police officer in the head—helped strangle a drowning city after Katrina. This week is showing that it didn't have to happen. Gov. Bobby Jindal brought in troops to help keep order even before the storm, and Mayor Ray Nagin's police force has suffered no desertions as of midday Monday.

But New Orleans continues to struggle in recovering from Katrina because citizens aren't safe in normal times. With 132 murders this year, New Orleans' per-capita murder rate is 10 times that of New York City. Robbery rates are similar.

McCain should say that, if we don't help New Orleans assure public safety, federal rebuilding dollars will largely be wasted—the city can never truly come back to life if people are continually leaving out of fear. He can pledge to protect our tens of billions in investments by working with Jindal to insist on reforms in New Orleans' DA's office, police department and judicial system—insisting on changes a condition for federal cash.

The feds and the state should track progress here with statistics-based accountability. If they do it right, they'll see results soon enough.

More New Orleanians will come back if they feel safe—and they'll put more of their own money into their city. And if the city can come to thrive thanks to solid flood-control and law enforcement, it will be wealthy enough to take more responsibility for improving its own levee system—just as New York uses its own resources to protect itself from terrorism.

Most of all, McCain should make clear that though New Orleans didn't suffer horribly this time around, it wasn't mercy that spared the city, but common-sense acts of people: adequate flood protection, sensible evacuations and measures to assure basic public safety in an evacuated city.

We don't need miracles—just competence in understanding and executing what the government should do, so that private investors and volunteers can do their jobs.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/09022008/postopinion/opedcolumnists/in_gustavs_wake_127087.htm

 

 
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