Monday, November 17, 2008

Further Nagin Notes

This aperitif nicely follows my latest "defense" of his administration.

First, make sure you've read Jarvis DeBerry's latest, one of his better columns in recent memory.

He brilliantly evokes the Daily Show's interview with the current Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, which I thought was the best Palin-related piece of journalism from the whole campaign cycle.

Note to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and everybody in his administration: Don't return any calls placed by "The Daily Show." That shouldn't be hard. The mayor's staff rarely calls back real journalists. So blowing off fake ones shouldn't be difficult.

Even so, those in the administration should take exceeding care not to sit down with anybody from "The Daily Show" lest they get thrown a hardball question like, "What do you do?"

Such a question would surely stump them, for as best as residents can tell, many folks in Nagin's administration don't do much of anything except fend off requests for information and come up with hotheaded responses to criticisms that they're do-nothings.


The rest of the piece hits all the same notes we've been hitting out here in the wild, wild Internet. Essentially he argues that the Mayor's defensiveness in the face of chronic incompetence on his own staff has become, not just indicative of but also a reason for, the larger inability to get anything done. (I have no idea how to punctuate that sentence, my apologies)

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I'd also like to address some lingering thoughts from the "defense" post.

To highlight part of Cliff's comment:

"...not enough attention is given to the fact that he is really not doing anything that hasn't been done in city government since the beginning. This is the way New Orleans has always worked and the next mayor will be doing the same things unless there are some new ethics rules or a change in the city charter. This city was built on taking care of friends and allies. I think the support in the black community for ineffective leadership is overstated. I think the black community has given up on local government."

Yes, Nagin's popularity and legitimacy within the black community has always been overstated. He did not boast tremendous black support in 2002. But what is too rarely acknowledged or explained is why African Americans helped reelect him in 2006. I think it is too easy to say that they were won over by the chocolate city speech or some other nonsense. Rather, African Americans were willing, in general, to put Ray Nagin back over the top because of what was perceived as the alternative - a recovery ideology guided by the same green dot racists that had nearly planned their communities out of existence. Never mind for now that Mayor Nagin is now in bed with many of those same interests, he was the known evil and the "safe" choice during a time of trauma.

You can see evidence of this through an examination of Mayor Nagin's media strategy since that time, because it hasn't changed. His position is predicated on his own realization that he does not have credibility within the black community. What he understands and consistently attempts to take advantage of, is that some will begrudgingly prefer him to the unknown others he's been painting with such large strokes. He exploits fears of white/uptown/racism as a way of explaining himself. Clearly, it's not working very well even though it has bought him breathing room at times. It's a fairly common desperation tactic used by white and black politicians all over the country. (Though some of the fears have been pretty understandable, I should add.)

Obviously that oversimplifies and overgeneralizes some pretty complex interactions, but it's a helpful frame from which to examine the current political climate.

Cliff's larger point is that Nagin is just the latest in a long line of corrupt and ineffective mayors should also be noted. I know that I can sometimes get so caught up in the present that I lose sight of just how systemic this has always been. I was trying to think of that context when I used the phrase "aspired to adequacy" to describe the Mayor's first term. I wasn't trying to argue that he wasn't corrupt or didn't have terrible ideas, I think I was trying to get at the idea that Nagin's various first term foibles were not exactly exceptional when considering the historical context. Of course my larger point was that Mayor Nagin's second term has reached that transcendent level of ineffectually.

2 comments:

Matthew said...

philip gouretivitch had a great article on Palin in the New Yorker, primarily because he interviewed her before she became the VP candidate, and so was very open and welcoming in the interview...he was supposedly doing the rounds in Alaska for the Ted Stevens criminal story.

Clifton said...

I would like to say that your comments about Nagin concerning the black community are true and enhanced by the way some council members conduct themselves. They make his argument believable.