refloating11 Sep 2005
Jack Shafer has a whirlwind piece in Slate this week about whether or not we should rebuild New Orleans. He is attempting to take a very principled step back in analyzing the decisions we’re going to have to face in New Orleans. It’s an admirable task, but in doing so, he conflates many separate issues into one lump decision. He spends the first part of the article citing the rather deplorable state of affairs in New Orleans for the poor and underprivileged. This serves as a great refresher on the terrible situation in New Orleans prior to the hurricane, and a reminder of who suffered the most afterwards, but as it pertains to the decision to rebuild, it’s moot. Is anyone really arguing that we literally rebuild New Orleans brick-for-brick, housing project for housing project? Of course not. Here, he’s crusading against a straw-man.
He then goes on attempting to defend Hastert’s asinine and premature comment that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. Hastert’s comment was on Aug. 31 – a little early to be calling for the bulldozing of the city. And it was the first of many comments from leaders that seemed a little too eager to dismiss New Orleans as a lost cause. My personal favorite:
The Wall Street Journal wrote that Baker was overheard telling lobbyists: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
After covering Hastert’s “candor and wisdom”, he segues into a discussion of the geographic hurdles in rebuilding New Orleans. This again is a little irrelevant as to the “decision to rebuild”, as, from what I understand, we don’t really have a choice. New Orleans is an economic hub of the region, and unless we plan on finding another port, we will be rebuilding. Hopefully we can just build it better this time.
Next up in Shafer’s apology-fest is for Barbara Bush’s “let them eat cake” moment from yesterday:
Barbara Bush will be denounced as being insensitive and condescending for saying yesterday that many of the evacuees she met in the Astrodome would prefer to stay in Texas. But she probably got it right. The destruction wrought by Katrina may turn out to be “creative destruction,” to crib from Joseph Schumpeter, for many of New Orleans’ displaced and dispossessed. Unless the government works mightily to reverse migration, a positive side-effect of the uprooting of thousands of lives will to be to deconcentrate one of the worst pockets of ghetto poverty in the United States.
Referring to the evacuation of millions from their homes into foreign and sometimes unwelcome areas – on a scale not seen since the Dust Bowl era – as a “positive side-effect” is nothing but Grade A idiocy and here Shafer loses all credibility. It’s obvious now that Shafer is less interested in providing an objective take on the situation than he is in delivering a Hitchens-esque contrary-for-the-sake-of-being-contrarian rambling diatribe.
New Orleans won’t disappear overnight, of course. The French Quarter, the Garden District, West Riverside, Black Pearl, and other elevated parts of the city will survive until the ultimate storm takes them out—and maybe even thrive as tourist destinations and places to live the good life. But it would be a mistake to raise the American Atlantis. It’s gone.
New Orleans will be rebuilt because it has to be rebuilt. Economically and logistically speaking, I don’t really think we have a choice. I am open to suggestions that maybe that isn’t the case, but Shafer hasn’t made any worthwhile ones here. Millions have been displaced, and that is a tragedy, not a “positive cleansing”. The ones not coming back are the ones whom the city of New Orleans has failed, and the aftermath of the hurricane has furthered their abandonment. The old New Orleans is gone – but we’ll be rebuilding a new one. Let’s hope we can do a better job this time.