Edwards: Better, But Disappointing

John Edwards’ remark Monday night about having opened his campaign in the Lower 9th and saying he thought Americans were surprised at how much devastation still remains in New Orleans came just in time. Because after having heard nothing on the topic from him for several weeks, I’d been wondering if he’d fallen silent on the issue. However, he needs not only to say more, but also to assume leadership on New Orleans and Katrina. Unfortunately, Edwards’ website’s issues page just like Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s, makes no mention of New Orleans or Katrina above the fold. So even Edwards is falling very short of being the sort of candidate New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Region need.

Previously, although I’d diaried both Obama’s and Clinton’s issues pages, I’d been reluctant to diary the fact that Edwards’ issues page also lacks anything about New Orleans or Katrina because I’d been so grateful for what Edwards did earlier in his campaign for New Orleans. He has done more than any of the other candidates have done–I’ll give him that. Besides opening his campaign with a group of student volunteers in the Lower 9th, he also kicked off his “Two Americas” tour in New Orleans, and has also visited New Orleans more than has any other presidential candidate, Democratic or Republican.

Last fall, in another Democrats’ debate moderated by Brian Williams, who didn’t ask about Katrina or New Orleans, Edwards brought her up himself. He spent some time talking about New Orleans and added,

“We don’t need a surge in Baghdad, we need one in New Orleans!”

And after New Orleans was rejected as a debate venue by the site selection commission, Edwards issued this statement:

“It saddens me to hear that the Commission on Presidential Debates rejected New Orleans’ bid to host a debate in 2008 citing evidence that the city has not recovered enough to host the event. I strongly believe this decision was a mistake and I urge the Commission on Presidential Debates to rethink their decision.

“As a nation, all of us have a responsibility to do everything we can to help rebuild this great city, and holding national events in this city, like a presidential debate, will help New Orleans move forward. I have made rebuilding this city a central part of my presidential campaign because I believe we cannot stand on the sidelines as President Bush continues to fail the people of New Orleans.

“The truth is America is not the country of the Superdome in New Orleans after Katrina. We can prove it by fulfilling our moral responsibility to get New Orleans back on its feet. At a minimum, when I am the Democratic nominee, I will push to make sure we hold a presidential debate in New Orleans. And, as president, I will make sure that our government does everything in its power to help restore the city.”

Because of things like this, although undecided, I’d been leaning towards Edwards. But that was last year.

Could Edwards have made a New Year’s resolution to downplay New Orleans? Has he just led her on to expect more from him than she’s been getting from the rest of the candidates, only to put her on the back burner as they have? Could the displacement of

Almost half of New Orleans’ electorate

have caused Edwards to for the most part decide to look the other way? Until Monday’s debate, I hadn’t heard anything out of Edwards on New Orleans since last year. Nor has he visited her. In fact, in case I missed hearing about something, I checked out his headlines page through January 2008 so far and didn’t find any visits to, speeches on, or anything else having to do with New Orleans.

Now for Edwards’ issues page–which is more extensive than Clinton’s and Obama’s–but still inexplicably neglects to mention New Orleans. Since his list is so long, I’ll just pick those most relevant to New Orleans and Katrina. Health care, poverty, government reform, working families, civil liberties, energy/environment, education, veterans/military families, African Americans, women, young America, older Americans, and people with disabilities. (He also includes such things as Darfur and Uganda, which begs the question, why does he care about these places enough to list them on his Issues Page–but not sufficiently about New Orleans and the Gulf Region to do so? As do Obama and Clinton, Edwards needs to promote New Orleans and Katrina to his issues page, because this is a national issue.  

The ones he lists are perfectly good issues, but the fact that New Orleans and Katrina are not included above the fold does not bode well for any New Orleanian or anybody else who cares about and loves that city and wants to see her deep wounds heal and Louisiana and Mississippi’s Gulf Coast made whole. These issues would be just fine in a parallel universe–but not where there’s a beautiful, historic city where even undamaged housing (located by the river, where there was no flooding) is going to be demolished. instead of being refurbished to provide even a temporary home for her homeless. Or a country where the neglect of this city’s recovery on top of the trauma of the flood has led to a serious increase in depression, PTSD, and other mental/emotional ills. Or where New Orleans’ levees need to be strengthened, but there are concerns as to how this can be done. Or a country where Mississippi Gulf Coast homeowners struggling to rebuild their homes and their lives must contend with roadblocks thrown in their path by big, politically-connected insurance companies which, because of their hired guns, have been able to rip off their policyholders with impunity.

And what’s a pity about his not paying attention to New Orleans and not having New Orleans and Katrina above the fold is the fact that all the issues I mention above have a tie-in with New Orleans, Mississippi, and Katrina. Because New Orleans is the canary in the coal mine. I’m not going to talk about them one-by-one because that would for the most part repeat what I said under the Clinton and Obama diaries. I’ll just say that their absence even from Edwards’ front page should be especially disheartening and discouraging to any resident of New Orleans or the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coasts, or anybody else who cares about how New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Region are faring. This after Edwards at the start had been so supportive of New Orleans and the rest of the region and had shown such promise that these issues would be paid attention to consistently.

Perhaps this is moot now that Edwards not only has not even come close to winning the early contests, but is doing very poorly in the polls. (In that case, consider it an early post-mortem!) After throwing his hat in the ring in the Lower 9th, Edwards could have made his plan for New Orleans the break-out issue of his campaign, assuming leadership on this issue and distinguishing himself from the rest of the candidates on this matter. By leading in this manner, Edwards could have initiated the long-delayed national conversation that should have taken place after the levees failed–a conversation on race, class, the environment, and priorities in general. A conversation that never took place because BushCo changed the subject soon after Katrina and the flood.

Regarding the mainstream media, Edwards should have seized control of the agenda, telling them in effect that what’s going on in New Orleans is important. And stuck to his guns on this issue. HuffPo’s Karen Dalton-Beninato said,

After last night’s Congressional Black Caucus Debate, John Edwards told CNN that there was too much petty bickering and no mention of New Orleans. His: “I announced my campaign from the 9th Ward of New Orleans and I think many Americans were shocked at those images,” was not touched by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

In my view, Edwards shouldn’t have waited until after the debate to tell CNN what he did. Early on during the debate, when Clinton and Obama were squabbling, Edwards should have jumped right in and pointed out that there are more important things that need to be talked about–like New Orleans and Katrina. And kept mentioning New Orleans and Katrina every so often until Clinton and Obama started talking about them, too.

And Edwards should have scotched any mainstream media efforts to change the subject to trivia. For example, in the very first Democrats’ debate, where the clueless Brian Williams displayed his stupidity by finding the time to ask Edwards about his $400 haircuts and hedge funds, but had no time to bring up New Orleans, Edwards could have asked Williams why he didn’t ask him about New Orleans. Edwards could also have demanded more and better news coverage of everything he did for and about New Orleans.

One more thing about Edwards: There’s a misconception about New Orleans and Katrina, even though the effects of the flooding and the storm cut across racial and class lines, that these are “black issues.” Edwards’ having taken New Orleans on and standing out on this issue would have put the lie to this idea. He could also have emphasized the fact that New Orleans and Katrina are a national issue. Edwards should have brought home to Americans the fact that if New Orleans, with one of America’s largest ports, and Louisiana, with her oil and natural gas, are not allowed to recover–well, if you think the economy is bad now, just wait until you’re paying $10/gallon for gas or need to take out a small loan to heat your home.

But unfortunately Edwards (or whoever’s really responsible for organizing his campaign and deciding what issues he focusses on) did not have the foresight or the moral courage to go the extra mile and highlight New Orleans and Katrina. He squandered a golden opportunity to duistinguish himself on this issue. Instead, for some inexplicable reason known only to him and his campaign, he decided to join the other candidates in their relative silence on a New Orleans and Katrina that have been marginalized as “black issues.” And that is very wrong.

While many other reasons have been cited for the fact that Edwards has been doing so poorly, I have to wonder if added to this list could be the fact that after such a promising start regarding New Orleans and Katrina, Edwards has not followed through by making this a break-out issue. And why he has not….


  1. He’s speaking for a hardcore-disenfranchised constituency… or really, two, come to think of it:

    1. Poor folks, who stay away from polling places in droves (or whose votes are “caged” etc. when they dont), and

    2. Activists and advocates of/for the poor, who tend to be most skeptical of “establishment” politics and politicians.

    Seems to me, he picked a tough crowd to “represent,” and maybe this is why a) he doesn’t poll as well as he resonates, and b) it suggests a problem that might both result in more “moderate” (i.e. economically reactionary) politicians, and will need solved before an economic populist stands a chance of getting elected.

    But don’t take my word for it. Pick any Independent Media Center site, and advocate for the Edwards candidacy on it.

  2. how did this happen?

    There’s a misconception about New Orleans and Katrina, even though the effects of the flooding and the storm cut across racial and class lines, that these are “black issues.

        And how can all the candidates ignore the fact that a whole city is suffering? There’s not even anything at Kucinich’s website. It just boggles the mind!  


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