It’s Time for a New “New Deal”
New Orleans is destroyed, the Gulf Coast’sinfrastructure is in tatters and tens of thousands ofcitizens are without jobs as gas prices nationwiderise to record levels. Television sets brought thedestruction into all of our homes. But this WhiteHouse seemed unable to grasp the misery unfoldingbefore its own eyes.
Instead, President Bush treated the disaster as if hewere a loutish frat boy when he joked to Americansthat he had had good times partying in New Orleans asa young man and hoped in the near future to be able tosit on Senator Trent Lott’s rebuilt porch in Mississippi.
But to really understand what went wrong with theAdministration’s shameful response, we need to lookbeyond Bush’s blame-the-other, pass-the-buck andwho-gives-a-____ attitude.
The Administration’s ineptitude, as New York Timescolumnist Paul Krugman put it, was “a consequence ofideological hostility to the very idea of usinggovernment to serve the public good.”
The government’s failure was the result not of “simpleincompetence” in the Administration but “of a campaignby most Republicans and too many Democrats tosystematically vilify the role of government inAmerican life,” LA Times columnist Robert Scheerargued. And as the Financial Times observed, “For thepast quarter-century in Washington…US politics hasbeen dominated by the conviction that what was wrongwith America would be solved by getting government offthe people’s backs”–an attitude that contributed tothe criminal inaction on the part of the federalgovernment.
Indeed, you could see what the dog-eat-dog,antigovernment philosophy of the far right has reapedin the bloated bodies and raw sewage in New Orleans’sflooded streets.
That philosophy has attained new power under PresidentBush. While the Louisiana Army Corps of Engineersproposed $18 billion in projects that would haveshored up the protective levees, improved floodcontrol and perhaps prevented last week’s breaches inthe levees’ walls, none of these projects were funded.Instead, the White House cut the Corps’ budget andactually proposed a further 20 percent cut in 2006.
Which raises the question: What steps should we taketo repair the breach that has become so apparent inour social fabric?
Here’s one answer: Let’s seize this moment bylaunching a twenty-first-century New Deal–with programsmodeled after the Works Progress Administration,updated for these times. Why?
A modernized version of the WPA would help ournation to rebuild New Orleans and Mississippi’s GulfCoast, and repair the racial and class dividesthat we saw in such dramatic relief these past fewdays. It would rebuild and improve our nation’spublic infrastructure and (hopefully) alter the terms of ourpolitical discourse in the years ahead.