My colleague Michelle Pilecki has written a largely admirable post on John Edwards' use of New Orleans as a backdrop for his campaign announcement (I say "largely" because, unless she's planning to run for the Senate or she's overly impressed with having gotten an autographed copy of my new novel, there's no excuse for calling me "distinguished"). But there's one thing to add, and it comes from Edwards' morning TV show appearances. New Orleans figures into the announcement as a "see what I mean?" support for Edwards' revived "two Americas" slogan. But the people being bedeviled by problems in New Orleans now--the homeowners trapped in Kafkaesque mobius strips of approvals and delays--belie that neat dichotomy. Some of them are poor, though homeowners, some of them are/were middle class and above. Class is not saving them from the tender mercies of the Road Home program, for example, nor from the ministrations of the Army Corps of Engineers, hell-bent on repeating, if not its mistakes, at least the way it made them.
No, the clue from Edwards' morning appearances comes from what he says about Iraq. "First," he told his many questioners this a.m., "tell the truth about how we got here." Senator Edwards, until you tell the truth about what happened to New Orleans--the truth clearly eluciated by three separate forensic engineering teams and then, belatedly, reluctantly confirmed by the Corps itself in June of this year, the truth that New Orleans was leveled not by a natural disaster but by arguably criminal negligence--your use of the city as a backdrop reminds me not of any of your political heroes. It reminds me of Anderson Cooper.
By the way, who's he keeping honest these days?
UPDATE: I've now seen Edwards' official announcement speech on C-SPAN. His failure to tell the truth about New Orleans just becomes more glaring: most of the good things that have happened there, he says, have been because of the volunteers who've come to town. What's unsaid: that the volunteers can't speed up the government and contractors who fail to execute their basic obligations. Most of the good things in New Orleans are, in fact, being done by individuals and community groups precisely because of the abject lack of "good things" being done by responsible agencies. If Edwards doesn't believe government should work, he should say so.
FRIDAY UPDATE: Reading the comments to this post serves as a reminder, if one were needed, that partisans of any stripe will interpret any critique of their guy/gal firstly, if not exclusively, through a partisan prism. Well, duh. So, let's shuck right down to the cob. Please, those of you who think John Edwards did New Orleans some good by bringing the cameras down (those of you who think New Orleans doesn't need any good are excluded from this next step), please help me distinguish between Edwards' use of the Ninth Ward (Upper or Lower? he never said) as a backdrop and President Bush's frequent use of American troops as a backdrop. In the meantime, just a note to the partisans: one reason why skeptics remain skeptical is because believers are so willing to take a photo-op as proof of good intentions.
LATER FRIDAY UPDATE: Okay, now we've got some specifics. Adam Nossiter in the NYT both pinpoints the location (New Orleans East, not, as pol writers from elsewhere echoed Edwards in calling it, the "Ninth Ward"), and the substance. Nossiter reports:
Asked how he would have handled New Orleans, Mr. Edwards responded: "I would have had somebody coming into my office every morning, and I would say to him, 'What did you do in New Orleans yesterday?' And then the next day, 'What did you do yesterday? What steps do we need to take? What are we not doing? What are the people in New Orleans telling us that we're not doing?' "
Compare that inane litany of questions (he'd really ask "somebody" every day, "What steps do we need to take?") with the specifics Edwards found time for on Iraq and tax policy. Maybe somebody should get him a subscription to the Times-Picayune before he comes back to town.