Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2005 / 18 Elul,
New Orleans has three big problems just now: flood control, damage control and mayoral control.
Which one is the biggest isn't easy to decide, but every time The Hon. C. Ray Nagin goes off on another tangent, and follows it right over a cliff, he moves into the lead for Problem No. 1.
Not long ago, the mayor was inviting the dispersed New Orleans diaspora back home, or at least a couple of hundred thousand of them. Yep, come on in, the water's fine.
Never mind that just now the devastated city is a plague waiting to happen; it doesn't have a single hospital operating up to standards, and much of New Orleans still doesn't have electricity, drinkable water or 911 service. But here was Hizzoner flinging open the gates just as another hurricane was entering the Gulf of Mexico.
Another foot of rain or a three-foot flood surge would likely overwhelm the levees again, but that didn't stop the mayor he was determined to roll out the sopping-wet welcome mat.
The one effective leader on the local scene seems to be Thad Allen, the Coast Guard vice admiral who's been put in charge of relief efforts. He tried to warn Ragin' Nagin and the people of New Orleans that now was no time to hurry back.
The admiral's message was clear but his tone tactful. ("Reopening city very ambitious, relief chief says/He asks mayor to be mindful of risks of returning too early" Page 1, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Sept. 18, 2005)
It was like using etiquette on a bull. Mayor Nagin responded by describing Admiral Allen as "the new crowned federal mayor of New Orleans." He made the admiral sound like Ben Butler, the despised Union general who headed the occupation of New Orleans after the Late Unpleasantness.
Consider the surreal scene: Here the mayor had just returned from Dallas, where he had relocated his own family and enrolled his daughter in school, but he was urging others to move back. This despite the admiral's sensible warning: "We're potentially asking people to re-enter a city where there is no potable water. . . . Our collective counsel is for him to slow down."
And the mayor finally did, not quite admitting that his invitation to repopulate the city had been premature even while he had to order a second evacuation.
Those poor folks who took the mayor seriously the first time had to turn around and leave a second time.
When the admiral referred to "collective counsel," he was speaking for everybody from the president of the United States to Louisiana's own Homeland Security office. To quote its spokesman, "We'd rather people not go back to New Orleans." Not yet, anyway.
But if Mr. Nagin hadn't relented, how could the authorities have kept them out when their mayor was urging them to return despite all the counsels of common sense and sanitary engineering?
What will Ragin' Nagin say next? His outburst in the immediate wake of Katrina's devastation, while people were still drowning and others were imprisoned in that hellish Superdome, was more than understandable. It was needed. And useful. His cry for help seemed to wake up the country and even its sluggish president.
Those horrific images from stricken New Orleans were something out of Dante's Inferno, only with water instead of fire. The mayor had every reason to yell. But now he's gone from yelling like a first sergeant to being the only guy in the outfit who never gets the word. He really needs to get a grip.
Before this is over, the president and commander-in-chief may yet have to do what he should have done weeks ago in order to protect the health and welfare of innocent people caught in a hurricane of governmental incompetence: declare martial law.
The governor of Louisiana seems incapable of doing anything so forceful. Her evacuation orders sound more like polite pleas. Every time I've seen her on the tube, the poor woman has that doe-in-the-headlights look, and her evacuation orders seem wholly optional. No wonder people don't listen to her.
Poor New Orleans stuck between one hurricane and the next, and stuck with a mayor whose reaction to the first went from unprepared to unhinged. The nation is still haunted by those nightmarish images from the Superdome, which the mayor had filled with desperate people. And the general quality of his preparation for the emergency will be forever symbolized by that picture of those rows upon rows of school buses ever so neatly arranged so the flood waters could come right up to their roofs.
You have to wonder what disaster Mayor Nagin is going to invite to his city next cholera?
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.