"To my country I want to say this: During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us "Sin City," and turned your backs.” — novelist and New Orleans resident Anne Rice
Let me get this straight.
Ms. Rice, you live in (what was) a very attractive city which lies below sea level. On one side you have a giant lake; on the other side you have the Gulf of Mexico. Running through the middle is the Mississippi River. All of which are above you.
Preventing those giant bodies of water from flooding and drowning you are levees. These levees are described as “century-old.” People have been warning about the devastating effects of a direct hit from a hurricane for decades.
I’ve heard a great deal of complaint in recent days that the federal government may not have allocated enough money to speed up the upgrades to those levees. This does, however, raise the question of why city and state residents were waiting around for the federal government to send enough money to upgrade this, instead of paying for it themselves. I mean, it was only your homes, businesses, and lives at stake. Perhaps these upgrades would have been expensive. If only this city had some sort of events to attract tourists, from which to collect taxes.
Anyway, your state and local officials decided to spend your tax dollars on something else that they (and presumably you) found more important, and then they waited for the rest of the country to pay for these life-preserving necessities.
Your beloved city and region has a colorful political history, in which there is, oh, a wee bit of corruption. I’m from New Jersey, so I can’t throw stones at that glass house. But you guys have managed to pick leaders who give you the worst of both worlds — they’re scandal ridden and incompetent in a crisis. Look, Rudy Giuliani might have run around with Judith Nathan before his divorce, but he was a hell of a leader in our darkest hours. You know the National Review crowd isn’t a fan of Pataki, but the man was a rock after 9/11 compared to Governor Weepy I’ll-Evacuate-Eventually and Mayor It’s-Everybody’s-Fault-Except-Mine. Nobody’s throwing around the adjective “Churchillian” about any of your officials these days. We didn’t pick your local officials; you guys did.
Rice asks, “how many times did Gov. Kathleen Blanco have to say that the situation was desperate? How many times did Mayor Ray Nagin have to call for aid?”
We failed you? No, oh brilliant creator of Exit to Eden, you failed. You might not think of it this way, but: Your leaders failed to upgrade the levees. You elected a bunch of weepers and blame-shifters who lost their head in a crisis.
To save you guys now, I — and a lot of other Americans — will pitch in. We are witnessing the biggest mobilization of civilian and military rescue and relief crews in history. But I have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to want the rest of us to pay for the rebuilding of your city. (In the near future, we’re going to have to have a little chat about the wisdom of building below sea level, directly next to large bodies of water.) And if you’re going to come to the rest of us hat in hand, demanding the rest of us clean up after your poor judgment, I’d appreciate a little less “you failed us” and a little more “we’ve learned our lesson.”