Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stumpin' with McCain

John McCain arrived in New Orleans today to tour the still devastated Ninth Ward area and to speak at the mostly African-American campus of Xavier University. He took particular pains to distance himself from the Bush administration and the sorry response it had to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There was no doubt that McCain was not speaking as a Senator, who like his fellow Senators Obama and Clinton, did little to breed confidence in the government in the days following the cataclysm. McCain was speaking as a presidential hopeful and one whose rhetoric spoke more towards what he would have done were he in charge as opposed to what he actually did to inspire our citizens, all of whom were forced to flee their homes and businesses. Today many of them are still trying to recover from the unprecedented disaster. If we trust what McCain said today, the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast would have little to fear if another "100 year" storm were to slam into the vicinity head on. He would direct the recovery effort himself from the tarmac of whatever nearby airport he would land Air Force One. He pledged: "Never again, never again will a disaster of this nature be handled in the terrible and disgraceful way this was handled." That's quite a bit of posturing for McCain, who heretofore has never been quite as reproachful of the Bush administration in the area of domestic policy. McCain has been quite careful in the past not to tie his hitch to the Bush wagon train, especially as anti-war demonstrators have encircled the wagons. He has had the indelicate task of supporting the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, while distancing himself from Bush. When asked if the responsibility for the disaster in New Orleans goes all the way up the ladder to Bush, McCain answered "yes." The speech could be McCain's sharpest criticism of the President. Given the fact it was delivered to a group that experienced much of the pain and suffering brought about by the incompetence of a poorly managed FEMA response team, it received thunderous response. As a member of Congress, McCain also shouldered some of the blame too. He was critical of his fellow Senators and those Representatives who continued to add pork barrel projects to legislation when much of that money could have been earmarked for hurricane relief. McCain was one of the first Senators to tour the city after the storm, but that was due in large part to a response from Women of the Storm, a local group who petitioned Congress to see for themselves what was happening (or the lack thereof) in New Orleans. McCain and others made the trip in March 2006, almost seven months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Make no mistake about it. New Orleans is not Republican territory. Through the years it has largely supported liberal Democrats, while neighboring Metairie, Baton Rouge and much of the northern areas of Shreveport and Monroe have constituted a fairly large amount of staunch Republicans (or registered Democrats who vote Republican). In a way he vindicated himself because of remarks reported earlier in the week on CBS and by Newsweek that suggested McCain was unsure whether or not to rebuild the Ninth Ward. "I really don't know...that's why I'm going," he was reported as having said. Local organizations spearheading relief like ACORN were appalled that McCain, or any presidential candidate for that matter, would be unsure about the rebuilding efforts there at this juncture. McCain may have had his most difficult moments when he was asked how he could justify the huge cost of waging the war in Iraq and Afghanistan when only a small fraction of that cost has trickled into New Orleans and the Gulf Coast areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He was also asked why he favors making the Bush tax cuts that favored corporations and the upper tax brackets when many of those cuts resulted in the loss of federal funds supporting minority education institutions like Xavier University. The controversy of Barack Obama's connection with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright surfaced briefly when McCain was confronted by a student who questioned how he could accept a political endorsement from the Rev. John Magee, a Christian evangelical, who has claimed that Hurricane Katrina was divine retribution for the sinners who lived in New Orleans. To his credit, McCain called Magee's remarks "nonsense." He also pointed out that there is a major difference between accepting an endorsement and attending a pastor's church for 22 years. McCain will probably take Louisiana in a face-to-face showdown with either Obama or Clinton. It is safe to say, though, that while he probably won't win in New Orleans proper, he generated an incredible amount of positive public relations as a result of his stop here. A later stopover in Baton Rouge to raise funds for his continuing campaign marked the end of a busy day for the Republican nominee apparent.

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