Two long debates, 18 candidates, four hours of naked ambition. No discussion of the great domestic failure of our times - the ongoing tragedy of the official national abandonment of New Orleans.
You would expect this from the Republicans; they posed as if angling for the mantle of Reagan at his tacky and Disneyesque "library" - all that's missing is the gruesome Leninesque attraction at the center - but they're really jockeying for the legacy of George W. Bush. They want the nomination of a failed political party, one that will have to be rebuilt from scratch after its fully disgraced leader finally leaves office.
The posed as "conservatives" but more or less spewed the same tired talking points that didn't seem conservative at all (excepting Ron Paul) and aimed their manly goodness at the mythical "Daddy Party" primary voters of clueless Beltway Bubble Babushkas like Maureen Dowd.
You might expect the cold Republicans to pass on an issue that their fearless leader has actually handled less competently than the war; after all, its religious right wing reacted to the destruction with statements like this one from Repent America director Michael Marcavage [tip Americablog]:
Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city. From 'Girls Gone Wild' to 'Southern Decadence,' New Orleans was a city that had its doors wide open to the public celebration of sin. From the devastation may a city full of righteousness emerge.
Sure, they wouldn't actually say it, but the GOP candidates (four of whom bragged that they don't believe in evolution) embrace people like this because they know exactly how they'll vote if lied to in just the right tone.
Malign neglect is to be expected from the modern Republican Party, but where were the Democrats?
Why wasn't New Orleans front and center for the Democrats; why isn't a central issue on the campaign trail? Why don't all the candidate websites contain a plan, a proposal, the account of some working being done on behalf a great American city that is being allowed to die.
Here's a sad truth: American Idol did a better job in its recent fundraising campaign of highlighting the ongoing horror of southern Louisiana than did Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinich, and that talkative guy from Alaska in their nationally-televised first debate.
You know - Iraq is easy. The war is lost; it could never have been won in the first place. The troops will be coming home, and the chapter has basically be written. Iraq is a softball for the Democrats, even those who voted for authorization of force. It's an international calamity that will be felt for a generation, and we need a serious grown-up to clean up the mess. That's a quick story to tell voters.
New Orleans is much more difficult to campaign on. Yeah, the performance of the Bush Administration was criminal - but in this race, criticism on the left also demands solutions, demands results, demands collaboration and a plan. No progressive Democrat can merely run on Bush's failure in Louisiana - the base incompetence and the images of death and political abandonment have no shelf life; and Bush is not running.
Americans expect...check that...hope that Democrats can provide solutions, especially on a domestic issue. This is what we say we're good at.
My point is this: prove it.
New Orleans is failing, stagnant, dying. The do-gooders have left, the news crews have long-since packed the choppers and camera trucks. FEMA is auctioning off the trailers, some of which were never occupied. It's yesterday's news. New Orleans has half the population it did before Katrina. The drug trade has returned stronger than ever, and murders are surging. Basic health care is faltering, breaking down. the city's education system is being redrawn from the bottom up (this may be a good thing). Thousands of buildings remain abandoned. They're still pushing tourism and music (you can take a Katrina bus tour), but as RJ Eskow said this week: "It's a theme park in the middle of apocalypse." The media has moved on. The only time it shows up in a New York paper is when the Mets option a player to their Triple-A affiliate there.
If you're a top tier candidate for the Democratic nomination, you've got a big platform. You're allowed to parachute in and make some noise. You're allowed to call people out, to make bold proposals, to drag the sleepy, hung-over press corps with you.
My message to Senators Clinton, Obama, and Edwards (and you can throw in Biden and Dodd, if you'd like) is simple - this ain't the Senate. Go out and smack some people around on New Orleans. Blow off the inevitable photo opps, and start a few political fires. If a talented and deep pool of Democratic candidates for President cannot summon the political will to change the course of that wonderful city, who can?
Further, if the Democrats who want the Oval Office more than oxygen or water or sunlight can't expend their well-financed political capital to help save a dying city, to hell with 'em - for to hell, they certainly will belong.