By Peter Hannaford on 9.16.05 @ 12:09AM
It’s not exactly Laissez les bon temps rouler, but there is good news coming out of post-Katrina New Orleans and the Gulf coast. For example:
* Tuesday evening the first container ship docked at the Port of New Orleans and began unloading. This beat the Port’s predicted reopening by six months. Port officials credited the success to cooperation between federal agencies, Port staff, the dockworkers’ union and state police. They now say the Port will be operating at 80 percent of normal within three months. That’s good news for Midwest grain farmers who will soon be harvesting and exporting their crops.
* FEMA is sending auditors to the region to monitor the torrent of federal money pouring in for rebuilding. Given the history of government corruption in Louisiana, this is a good sign that your tax dollars will be at work instead of lining someone’s pockets.
* According to EPA tallies of the New Orleans metropolitan area’s 12 drinking water plants, two in the suburbs and one in the city are now producing potable water and several others are producing water that requires boiling.
* The number of dead in New Orleans, while in the hundreds, is far below the 10,000 predicted by Mayor C. Ray Nagin a week ago.
* Significantly, in a speech to the Louisiana legislature Wednesday (and broadcast statewide), Governor Kathleen Blanco accepted responsibility for any failures at the state level. This matches the previous day’s statement by President Bush’s that he takes responsibility for federal shortcomings.
Outrage and blame-casting were at white heat a week ago, with Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin in full CYA-mode, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu demagoging, and many in the news media doing what they do best, promoting discord.
Bush wisely did not respond in kind to the many darts aimed at him, but has made four trips to the devastated area, praising rescue workers, volunteers, and the generosity of the American people, and calling on everyone to keep working together to help evacuees and to put the area back together. His televised speech from New Orleans last night continued this theme: He understands that basic American instinct, in times of disaster, to pull together to solve the immediate problems and move ahead, putting things right.
Governor Blanco (whose indecision that first weekend was, in part, responsible for delays in federal action) now describes President Bush as “a friend and partner.” Mayor Nagin, riding side-by-side with the President on two truck tours of New Orleans, has made similar positive comments. Jesse Jackson and his friends, who enjoyed 48 hours of race-mongering last week, have fallen silent.
That leaves Democratic Party operatives with a diminishing issue. A week ago, they sensed they had Bush and the Republicans on the ropes in re the 2006 Congressional elections. On Capitol Hill, where Democrats of the 109th Congress have once again failed to put forward a single policy idea (and “no” is not a policy idea), there was much harrumphing about the administration’s manifest and manifold failures with regard to Hurricane Katrina. Senator Hillary Clinton had high visibility on what her colleagues sensed was a sure-fire political issue. Then came this week’s CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll. Fifty-eight percent of Americans approve of the way Bush has been handling the aftermath of Katrina. That is 20 points above his overall job-approval rating. Pfft goes the issue for the Democrats, who have once again “misunderestimated” their foe.
Peter Hannaford was closely associated for a number of years with the late President Reagan, beginning in the California Governor’s office. His latest book is Presidential Retreats.
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