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Restore the Wetlands. Reinforce the Levees.

Where Was Obama While McCain Was Exploiting Gustav?


‘Barack Obama has been running away from New Orleans for his entire campaign.’ —Naomi Wolf

Palin and McCain at Mississippi Emergency Management  Agency, Jackson, Aug. 31.

Palin and McCain at Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Jackson, Aug. 31.

Is this true? In all our excitement about Barack Obama (and lately the convention and Gustav), for some reason it hadn’t occurred to us to ask: Why doesn’t he come to New Orleans? Why doesn’t he talk about us more, and make New Orleans at least one example of the nation’s desperate need for change and hope and some expert community organizing?

In a powerful article in The Nation (9/22), Naomi Klein points out that “The City That Won’t Be Ignored” is being neglected by Obama—who blew it when he let McCain and Palin fly down to Mississippi to show their concern while he stayed away. Maybe McCain’s act was lame, but at least he came. Gustav didn’t inconvenience the Grand Old Party so badly after all. Maybe McCain’s visit was only setting the stage to demand new offshore drilling, as Bush did the very day after the storm, while more than half a million were without electricity and New Orleanians weren’t yet allowed to return home. Great: Republicans got credit for caring about storm victims.

Maybe Obama didn’t want to look like he was exploiting the storm for political gain, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he were a regular visitor. He waited a year after Katrina to finally visit New Orleans, then he showed up for one half day, just before the Louisiana primary. Thanks. The Democrats are trying to appeal to Hillary’s “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans,” so maybe he thinks he needs to be careful about whom he’s seen with. (Barack and Bill each mentioned Katrina, in passing, but not a word about New Orleans at the DNC by Biden, Michelle, or Hillary.) We can hardly stand all this attention.

John Edwards is in hiding nowadays, but when he began his run for the White House and when he ended it he came to New Orleans to make the announcement. He rolled up his sleeves and did some work on a house (at least while the cameras were rolling). He brought attention to the city’s plight and sought to gain national sympathy and investment—or was it only for himself?

Republicans, Klein reminds us, have a way of forcing their agenda on their candidate—e.g., making McCain take up the Drill Now chant. That’s something “social contract” Democrats can borrow. We have to find a way to make the next president and the Congress show they care: End the wars, restore the coastal wetlands, fortify the levees, house and train the people. It will never happen, ever, unless we demand it, over and over.

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