Monday, October 06, 2008

Full Speeed Ahead: Sailing in Circles

This weekend's election results were a major disappointment containing few silver linings and an ugly long-term outlook.

The Sad Truth: The 2nd Congressional district will see a runoff between the disgraceful William Jefferson and the uninformed conservative puppet Helena Moreno. For many weeks, I had anticipated this result and often used words like 'disastrous' and 'embarrassing' to describe a possible non-choice between Jefferson and Moreno. Somehow out of a slate of 7 below average candidates, we ended up a choice between the least qualified candidate and the most demonstrably corrupt candidate. This will not be viewed kindly by outside observers. This city desperately needs federal recovery dollars, and outsider perceptions of our 'worthiness' for such expenditures have already been battered by racist conservative media narratives. The reelection of someone as image-killing as Bill Jefferson or someone so patently unqualified for one of the city's highest offices represents another major blow to our civic credibility.

The Cynical Optimist: We'll have another crack at unseating Congressman Jefferson either when he's sent to prison or in two years. It gives us a chance to regroup behind a credible challenger about whom we can be relatively enthusiastic, a stark contrast to this year's slate of clothespin catalysts. I don't know how well we would have been served by erecting a new wall of Congressional incumbency around the likes of Troy Carter or Cedric Richmond.

The Depressing Facts: The Orleans Parish School Board is now lacks diversity in demographic makeup and in ideological philosophy. The grossly gerrymandered district maps have always encouraged a white majority, but post-K New Orleans magnifies those advantages. Much more substantively, the new school board has demonstrated an unfortunate disengagement from the most critical issues facing public education in New Orleans. The new school board includes conservatives in Brett Bonin, Woody Koppel, and Seth Bloom who ran on an ideological predisposition counter to the needs of a public school system. Far from actually possessing a plan to improve our public schools, these conservative candidates are primarily concerned with finding cheaper ways to produce the same results. Their primary goal, if I'm understanding their platforms correctly, is to reduce the school district's burden to the taxpayers. That is something that appeals to some people, particularly those that do not think they have a personal stake in the public school system, but this does not appeal to me. I believe education is a worthwhile investment for my tax dollar and I want a school board that will see to it that I get more impressive returns. This city needs strong public schools but an OPSB controlled by advocates of disinvestment is ideologically predisposed to not providing them.

The Smiling Idiot: A few strong progressives ran classy campaigns on little to no budget and began to build localized grassroots networks. Percy Marchand from District 06 and Amy LaFont from District 03 were extremely engaged in the actual issues facing the school systems from the very beginning. They each ran their campaigns on substance. They spoke out against the master plan because they not only took the time to read it but they truly engaged the material. They can be proud of that. District 06 is probably the least hospitable in the entire city for a progressive candidate like Percy Marchand, and the election results demonstrated this. Mr. Marchand is by far more qualified for the school board than Woody Koppel but the truth is that too many district 06 voters likely share Mr. Koppel's predisposition to decentralize and divest. Amy LaFont changed the debate in District 03. Her knowledge of the school master plan predates that of any of the other candidates by many months and her strident criticisms of the plan's effects on District 03 forced even Republican candidate Brett Bonin was forced to adopt a more skeptical rhetoric.

The Future:

In 2004, when I was still very depressed about George Bush's reelection, my father cheered me up with some clairvoyant analysis. He said that when Bush and his congressional cronies screwed up, there would be no where for them to hide the blame. He anticipated that Bush's reelection allowed for the total unravelling of the neoconservative movement because the only government for the neoconservatives to pin everybody's problems on would be their own. How lucky we are that the United States was strong enough to have come this close to withstanding the disastrous reign of the worst President of all time. We might just barely make it.

But is New Orleans that strong? Does New Orleans have the luxury of waiting?

How many more cycles of inept, corrupt, or conservative governance can this city withstand? How much longer can New Orleans be lead around the same circle of establishment consensus?

A lot of people I know romanticize New Orleans as a sinking ship where love for life is enhanced by the freedom gained from recognition of the inevitability of drowning. But a lot more people I know would love life a lot more if we'd just fix the holes in the boat. Can't we agree, at the very least, that this ship should sink more slowly? Our captains obliviously want to go full steam ahead into storm after storm, refusing to plug the gaping holes in our in-between moments of daylight. I don't know how much more water we can afford to watch pour into the hull before we decide to take our mutiny to the deck.

Can't we drop anchor, make repairs, ditch the sinking ship metaphor, and instead adopt one involving flight?

1 comment:

jeffrey said...

My buddy, r, and I have this kind of shared fantasy that someday this entire city will be underwater and no one will be left but she and I floating around on a log somewhere... totally shitfaced and still happily divorced from anything as mundane or stupid as what goes on in the "real world" beyond our municipal borders.

Silly? sure. Consoling, though? You bethca.

I had a similar conversation with my own Dad this weekend. (He just moved back to New Orleans where he intends to build a new house) The conversation you describe sounds an awful lot like a longstanding argument between my father and myself.

I think it must be some endemic Boomer thing to perpetually expect that mismanaged government and worsening conditions to magically bring people to their senses. I take the opposite view, however.

People like my Dad were raised in the shadow of the New Deal. The received paradigm of their childhood was built around a political vocabulary of class and effective organization and resistance based on class. My grandfather's generation was driven dirt poor, they fought back and made real progress. So people Dad's age kind of internalized that and thus have been waiting for the second coming of FDR ever since.

But the ascendant narrative today is completely different. Mostly because the boomers worked so hard to unlearn the lessons of their fathers and mothers. Their selfishness, jingoism and racism completely altered the paradigm.

As a result, our generation grew up with a dominant political landscape built on white flight demographics, anti-entitlement libertarianism, and free market hagiography.

Now I think that we are headed for an uncomfortable upheaval. But I think that the effect of less personal and economic security on a this particular mix does not necessarily lead to better things politically.

More likely it leads to a more stupider, meaner and scarier environment.

This is all incredibly simplistic. But suffice to say I do not take comfort in the thought that the W Administration has been some sort of purification by fire. Things can always get worse and they probably will.