The Times Picayune reports that 200,000 people are currently living in New Orleans, which is about 40% of the pre-Katrina population. And they also report that 30% of those who are here now are considering leaving. Based on what I hear from people I talk to that sounds about right. Why are they considering leaving?
Most of them are demoralized by the pathetic level of government.
I think that there’s a lot of distortion about what government is doing
(or not doing). Truth is, government is pretty dismal everywhere. A
really smart, politically connected fellow (whom I cannot identify)
told me the other day that his view is that ‘government doesn’t work.’
This guy is not an anarchist by any stretch; he’s totally wired in,
understands politics completely, and knows how to navigate the
political landscape. I was shocked that he said that.
But I completely agree. Of course, a radical notion like this deserves
some explanation. Here is my quick attempt. Some time ago (can’t say
exactly when) our country reached its peak as a place where bold
decisions were made by people in government. The size of our
government has grown substantially in the last 45 years and that’s a
big part of the problem. But it’s not all about size. Frankly, we’re
kind of complacent.
In New Orleans we have, for a long time, been massively complacent.
And then came Katrina, which turned everything on its head. Many of
the despondent citizens of New Orleans were hoping that government
would get turned on its head too. Sure, there have been some important
changes (i.e. voting to pare down our bloated assessor system), but not
enough. Love him or hate him (or, like me, just disrespect him) Ray
Nagin has not –to put it kindly– been inspirational. Almost everyone I talk to who lives outside
of New Orleans asks how we could re-elect Nagin. I can almost guarantee that, of the 30% who are considering
leaving, most of them have strong negative feelings towards Nagin, as well as some other local
Hey, William Jefferson was caught red-handed with $90,000 in his refrigerator, loot from a goofball shakedown that he was part of. But so what? This has not destroyed his career –at least not yet. He’s in the runoff for
Congress, and he promises that soon he will offer up an explanation for
seemingly blatantly shady behavior. How is this possible? How can he even deign to believe that he has a shot at re-election?
Okay, I’m going to say it, and probably not very well so feel free to brand me an elitist. There are a lot of ignorant (read: highly
uninformed, and easily swayed by rumor and gossip) people in New
Orleans. And there are ignorant people like this everywhere. These are
the people that politicians like Nagin and Jefferson (especially Jefferson) depend on. Our hack politicians counted on an ignorant constituency before Katrina, and, it appears they are counting on that same constituency again. Ignorant people may not see the harmful effects of electing people like Jefferson and Nagin (especially harmful now), but more sensible people do. We can always count on certain politicians to have simplistic solutions and to tell the largely uninformed populace what they want to hear, regardless of whether it is true or whether it is actually damaging.
The sad truth is that politics is pretty dismal everywhere, not just
New Orleans. But New Orleans has it’s own special circumstance now. It’s an obviously dismal one. When everything around you is some shade of dismal you start to develop strange fantasies. For people in New Orleans, post-Katrina, it was the fantasy that, along with all the other epic change, our political system would be overhauled too. Turns out that is completely, and laughably, ludicrous. Yes, it’s hard
to come to grips with the reality that even an epic disaster can’t change politics. And yes, there’s a lot of difficult reality to contend with here in New Orleans. So maybe that’s why 30% of our population is thinking
Frankly, I’m surprised that it’s only 30 percent.