Thursday, August 21, 2008

In Defense of Mayor Nagin

The American Zombie on Monday:

I just got an angry email in my AZ account from someone claiming that Nagin is being attacked because he's black and that I and "all the other bloggers" in the New Orleans blogosphere are racist....I guess the person wasn't including the African-American bloggers in this city who have been critical of Nagin as well.

By the there a pro-Nagin blog out there?


Gambit contributor Kevin Allman in the comments section of that AZ post:

Just a note: I've got keys to the Gambit blog and I will GLADLY run a pro-Nagin essay by a New Orleans blogger as long as it's original and not a press release.

I've looked for pro-Nagin blogs so I can invite the authors to contribute. I can't find any.

Anyone: get in touch with me.

Yes, this will be a "pro" Nagin blog post.


There is an appropriate time to 'defend' Ray Nagin. It occurs just about once a year, around the anniversary time when conservative pundits can't avoid discussing Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf's recovery process.

Conservatives hate Hurricane Katrina because, perhaps more than any other singular Bush Administration failure, as the federal response to the disaster most irreparably battered the President's highly cultivated image.

Look at what happened to his approval ratings in late 2005 and early 2006.

Bush fluffers would prefer to ignore that painful episode as much as possible. It provides evidence of the fallacy of the neoconservative model of governance blatant enough that it doesn't take an effete Wall Street Journal liberal to point it out. (Cons: "Gov't=Bad" :: Cons manage Gov't badly :: Cons: "See how bad Gov't is?") The Katrina tragedy also brought the issue of poverty back into the national discourse. Conservatives don't like talking about poverty because the policies they advocate so often exacerbate it - and pretty much everyone knows that.

Thus, when discussion of Hurricane Katrina is unavoidable, like it will be next week, drowning conservatives have little flotsam to which they can cling.

There are only a few things they can try.

One is to blame the citizens of New Orleans for their 'refusal' to evacuate. This one is usually only parroted by uber-insulated conservatives like Rush Limbaugh that are not accountable to the mainstream public and never have to justify their statements with demonstrable fact. There are a few reasons why this argument isn't really attempted outside of ignorant talk radio. First, the rebuttal to this fabricated refusal myth is a discussion of poverty that conservatives don't want to have. Second, the language associated with the refusal myth, which touches on some expectation of government handouts, laziness, and stupidly is so racially loaded that any media personality that faces a mainstream audience knows better than to indulge.

What mainstream conservative pundits can do to is deflect criticism of the Bush administration and avoid substantive conversations about America's responsibility to the Gulf, the human rights of displaced New Orleanians, and poverty is to drop the hammer on C. Ray Nagin.

Last week, I did my first ever radio interview for an extremely obscure talk show based out of New York. Though the program was billed for political independents, I was greeted with the following question, which I will paraphrase:

The Hurricane was awful, we all remember the tragedy as it came into our living rooms, yada, yada, yada... In the days after Katrina, there was a fleet of school buses ready to go and Ray Nagin told them they weren't needed. Wasn't Ray Nagin terrible? Isn't it all Ray Nagin's fault? Isn't he an idiot and the worst guy ever?

Now certainly Ray Nagin deserves a great deal of blame for our failed hurricane preparation but to get a question like that three years after the fact demonstrates the lengths the conservative message machine has gone to put forth a revisionist history of the storm. This effort has been buttressed by more competent federal responses to the wildfires in California and the flooding in Iowa. It has given conservative voices an opening with which to carry out the Rove disaster response plan: blame the Democrats. (Never mind the fact that Mr. Nagin was instrumental in originally implementing the very Rove-hatched media response plan which Nagin himself is now the most direct target - I'm trying my best to make this 'pro' Nagin.)

It's funny because conservatives don't want to talk about Nagin's failures as a mayor post-Katrina because Nagin's most glaring failure has been his implementation of a generally conservative recovery ideology: outsourcing to private developers, dismantling public assets, stalling investment in the most devastated neighborhoods, and refusing to address low wages, high rents, and nonexistent health care. Instead, the focus is on Nagin's failures as an agent of FEMA during a 3 week period 3 years ago.

Beyond that, conservatives bring on local guests willing to talk about how far our tourism industry has come since Katrina and how you could walk the French Quarter and not even know a Hurricane had ever hit.

Ray Nagin is an unfair victim of conservative racism and attempts to paint the mayor of New Orleans as indicative lazy do-nothingness on the part of New Orleanians during the storm. Neoconservatives don't want to place the blame for the Katrina response where it really belongs, at the feet of their own ideology that implements broken government on purpose.


Sometimes I feel like defending Nagin when he is used as a punching bag or used as a symbol for black people in general by neoconservative Bush administration brown-noses.

That's the best I can do for him.

There is a great irony here and it's not 'e doesn't actually like Nagin.'

All of the apologists out there that rail against Nagin critics by levying charges of racism are themselves ignoring what Nagin's policies are actually doing to the African American community of New Orleans.

The reality is that the biggest Nagin apologists out there aren't those that think attacks on Mr. Nagin are racist, they're the racist Republicans that themselves profit from Mr. Nagin's implementation of a bastardized free market disaster "recovery" policy slate that disproportionately hurts poor African Americans.

Recall that Ray Nagin himself contributed to George Bush's campaign in 2000 and nearly maxed out to the evil Billy Tauzin.

Also recall that campaign donations of members of the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, hand picked by Mayor Nagin, went to GOP candidates a whopping 94% of the time.

It is Nagin and the policies of his administration that are propping up and perpetuating the economic and racial injustice.

Those that call critics of Mayor Nagin's recovery policy racist should look in the mirror. They should think about who's really holding up Ray Nagin. They should look at who's really behind the Mayor's Excellence in Recovery Award (i.e. excluding those that were tricked into membership). They ain't exactly the victims of Katrina - they're the profiteers of false recovery.

So to Kevin and the American Zombie, if we're looking for a real pro-Nagin blog, maybe we should be contacting the exclusive class of boosters profiting from our city's unrecovery. They'll be above the Ritz on Friday.


Kevin Allman said...

Posted over at

Well done, sir.

Clifton said...

Thank you for this post. Anybody who's been paying attention to this situation should know that the pro-black Ray Nagin is a media creation built on racist propaganda. His appointed commission had the entire black community being green space. Sometimes I wonder if that "Chocolate City" comment really mean as much as we have made it out to be.

Anonymous said...

Of course he was conveniently race baiting, even if he'd been conservative before. And it worked, helped get him re-elected as much as the green dots or anything else. Why else use "Uptown," even if Uptown is racially mixed in reality?

For what it's worth, Nagin more or less told the New Yorker that he was trying to win favor with the Bush admin. by appointing conservatives close to him to the BNOB.

Bush’s pledge was contingent on the city’s having a recovery plan, so Nagin announced, on September 30th, that he was forming the Bring New Orleans Back Commission to develop one. As he explained to me later, what seemed most important at the time was maintaining good relations with the White House, and he appointed several people who, if necessary, could get President Bush on the phone.

From The Lost Year, in the New Yorker.