It was only three months ago that he stood in Jackson Square and made a prime-time speech to America where he pledged, "Throughout the area hit by the hurricane, we will do what it takes, and stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives. And all who question the future of the Crescent City need to know there is no way to imagine America without New Orleans, and this great city will rise again."
Not anytime soon, and maybe never, unless Bush keeps his promise. New Orleans ' and the surrounding areas of Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes ' is still on its knees and desperate for healing. An estimated quarter of a million homes have been deemed uninhabitable. Businesses trying to reopen and rebuild are desperate for workers, and more than 400,000 people remain exiled from the Crescent City. Huge sections of the city remain without power and plunge into darkness at night. A post-Katrina emotional blackness haunts many of our fellow Louisianans, with the suicide rate increasing at an alarming rate.
We are at a crossroads where the future of New Orleans and our entire state is on shaky ground. Bush acknowledged that in his September address: "In the life of this nation," he said, "we have often been reminded that nature is an awesome force, and that all life is fragile." But he reassured us that with history as our guide, the Crescent City would not be defeated. "We're the heirs of men and women who lived through those first terrible winters at Jamestown and Plymouth, who rebuilt Chicago after a great fire, and San Francisco after a great earthquake, who reclaimed the prairie from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Every time, the people of this land have come back from fire, flood and storm to build anew ' and to build better than what we had before. We have never left our destiny to the whims of nature ' and we will not start now."
Bush apparently has a short memory. The man who built his political fortunes on compassionate conservatism is showing no compassion for Louisiana and letting partisan politics shape our destiny like vultures circling a dying dog. Bush has remained silent while legislators like Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig have cited Louisiana's regrettable history of government corruption as a reason to block or limit federal aid. Since when did Louisiana become the only state in the country to be stained by unethical elected officials? And Bush refuses to commit to financing Category 5-strength levee protection, an absolute necessity for displaced residents and businesses who want assurance that they can return and will be protected if another monster hurricane hits New Orleans.
The president appears preoccupied with a laundry list of other challenges of his own making ' the deadly and costly war in Iraq, the largest budget deficit in U.S. history and a bitter ideological debate over the next Supreme Court justice. Yet the House of Representatives still passed $95 billion in tax cuts last week, while the City that Care Forgot is turning into the City that George Forgot.
Although New Orleans' plight receives the bulk of the national media attention, let us not forget our friends and neighbors to the west who are still suffering from Hurricane Rita. Coastal residents and businesses in places like Cameron Parish and Lake Charles are struggling with many of the same issues plaguing New Orleans: the largely inept response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, endless unanswered questions regarding flood and homeowner's insurance and confusing signals about rebuilding requirements.
We're not the only ones feeling forsaken. Last week, Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour lashed out at the lack of federal assistance for his state. "We are at a point where our recovery and renewal efforts are stalled because of inaction in Washington, D.C., and the delay has created uncertainty that is having very negative effects on our recovery and rebuilding," Barbour told the House panel investigating the government's response to Katrina. "It is taking the starch out of people who've worked so hard to help themselves and their neighbors."
We can't let that happen to us. Acadiana is in a position to stand up and let Louisiana's voice be heard in Washington, D.C. Largely untouched by Katrina and Rita, life here has returned to familiar routines. The Cajundome is no longer an evacuee shelter, and our roads are no longer filled with military and relief vehicles. Now is the time to take a few minutes and write President Bush and tell him we haven't forgotten his promise. Write Congress, too. Or a phone call or e-mail will do just fine. The president is notorious for governing from a bubble filled with his closest advisers, and we need to break that bubble by letting him and crucial policymakers know that we're demanding accountability from them. We're not asking for a handout; we need a helping hand.
If we don't get involved and stay involved, we're allowing a national whisper campaign questioning Louisiana's ethics, values and importance to the rest of the country ' an affront to generations of honest, hard-working Louisianans ' to go unchecked. And if we don't win this battle, we're setting a deadly precedent. Consider this scenario: if the President continues to ignore New Orleans, a historic cultural center and a port city responsible for more than 30 percent of our state's economy, what would he do if a Category 5 hurricane ' God forbid ' caused extensive damage to Acadiana or another part of the state?
Now is the time to press President Bush and find out if he is a man of his word ' or a liar.
GETTING YOUR VOICE HEARD
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20500
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST, R-Tenn.
509 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE DENNIS HASTERT, R-Ill.
235 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER ROY BLUNT, R-Mo.
217 Cannon House Office Building; Washington, D.C. 20515
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU, D-La.
Room 326, Federal Building, 707 Florida Street, Baton Rouge, LA 70801
SEN. DAVID VITTER, R-La.
800 Lafayette St., suite 1200, Lafayette, LA 70808
REP. CHARLES W. BOUSTANY JR., R-La.
800 Lafayette St., suite 1400, Lafayette, LA 70807
REP. CHARLES MELANCON, D-La.
210 East Main St., New Iberia, LA 70560
REP. BOBBY JINDAL, R-La.
3525 N. Causeway Boulevard, suite 1020, Metairie, LA 70002
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON, D-La.
1012 Hale Boggs Federal Building, 500 Poydras St., New Orleans, LA 70130
REP. JIM MCRERY, R-La.
6425 Youree Drive, Suite 350, Shreveport, LA 71105
REP. RICHARD BAKER, R-La.
5555 Hilton Avenue, Suite 100, Baton Rouge, LA 70808
(225) 929-7711 or toll-free (800-892-1253)
REP. RODNEY ALEXANDER, D-La.
1900 Stubbs Avenue, suite B, Monroe, LA 71201
SENATE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, R-Miss., chairman
113 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SEN. ROBERT BYRD, D-W.Va., ranking member
311 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SEN. TED STEVENS, R-Alaska
522 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SENATE BUDGET COMMITTEE
Sen. JUDD GREGG, R-N.H., chairman
393 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SEN. KENT CONRAD, D-N.D., ranking member
530 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SENATE ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS COMMITTEE
SEN. JAMES INHOFE, R-Okla., chairman
453 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
SEN. MAX BAUCUS, D-Mont., ranking member
511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE
REP. JERRY LEWIS, R-Calif., chairman
2112 Rayburn House Office Building; Washington, D.C. 20515
REP. DAVID OBEY, D-Wis., ranking member
2314 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
HOUSE BUDGET COMMITTEE
REP. JIM NUSSLE, R-Iowa, chairman
303 Cannon House Office Building; Washington, D.C. 20515
REP. JOHN SPRATT, D-S.C., ranking member
1401 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
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