Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Truth Hurts

I confess, I seldom go to Slate to seek unbiased truth. I go to explore alternative views to my own. I know that Slate tends to be a bit—make that more than a bit—to the left of my own positions on virtually everything. That’s why it took the Dallas Morning News republication of an item by Jack Shafer before I saw this: Don't Refloat

What incredible insight! Written eleven days ago, when emotions over the damage in the aftermath of Katrina were at their highest and expectations for the future were at their lowest, Shafer musters a strong argument against restoration of New Orleans. And, surprisingly, there has been little to emerge in the past eleven days to really prove him incorrect.

He suggests very strongly that there is no practical way to restore the Big Easy, and really no one should want to. Restoration of the poverty, the depression, the unemployment, the corruption, the lack of education and the arguable lawlessness of the town which most tourists didn’t see isn’t a goal worth pursuing. Dumping several hundred thousand dollars per former occupant into the reconstruction of an area that will never be secure from a recurrence of the hurricane/flooding/looting disaster isn’t a very good idea at all. And, please note that the current estimates of costs for the recovery are exactly at that level--$200 billion. Divvy that up among half a million former residents and it comes to a tidy sum per capita.

Senator Landrieu doesn’t like such honesty. Governor Blanco won’t tolerate such realism. Mayor Nagin, from his newly purchased home in Texas, governing in abstentia, wouldn’t like to see the opportunity for his own compensation in “administering” the recovery programs diminished by such truth. No, they’ve all got a deeply vested interest in seeing money poured from federal coffers into state and local government budgets to be doled out (with concurrent spillage) into their associates’ hands.

But, the real question is what should we really do? The city has historic value. There are some industrial needs that can be met by the port and related infrastructure. There is probably a justifiable reason to restore the French Quarter and the Garden District for tourism. The rest of the city might well be abandoned without much regret.

A couple of hundred thousand former residents are dispersed around the country. Many of them left little behind and have little desire to return to the conditions of their prior lives. They already are discovering that conditions of life in Baton Rouge, Dallas, Houston, and hundreds of smaller communities are a considerable improvement from what they left and lost. They won’t return and they shouldn’t be paid to do so by a guilt-stricken federal government.

When Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, suggests maybe rebuilding a city on a lake bed is foolish, we should be listening. The truth can hurt, but there is significant benefit to hearing it despite the pain.

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