Live, From New Orleans
I watched President Bush's speech from New Orleans last night. On the whole, I think it was a good speech, but I also think it was about a week too late. I think it would have made more sense to have made this speech the Thursday after the Hurricane hit than two weeks later.
Be that as it may, he had some good ideas of trying to help the Gulf Region. I liked that he wanted to get locals involved in the efforts to rebuild. I liked that he wants to do a full scale review of emergency preparedness plans, though you'd think that would have been done after 9/11.
I thought this passage about poverty and race was interesting:
Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well.
That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality.
When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets.
When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses.
When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.
Okay, so he sees poverty as a problem. What's his solution? The President continues:
I believe we should start with three initiatives that the Congress should pass.
Tonight, I propose the creation of a Gulf opportunity zone, encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.
BUSH: Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment; tax relief for small businesses; incentives to companies that create jobs; and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again.
It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity. It is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty. And we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.
I propose the creation of worker recovery accounts to help those evacuees who need extra help finding work. Under this plan, the federal government would provide accounts of up to $5,000, which these evacuees could draw upon for job training and education to help them get a good job and for child-care expenses during their job search.
And to help lower-income citizens in the hurricane region build new and better lives, I also propose that Congress pass an Urban Homesteading Act.
BUSH: Under this approach, we will identify property in the region owned by the federal government and provide building sites to low-income citizens free of charge, through a lottery. In return, they would pledge to build on the lot, with either a mortgage or help from a charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity.
Homeownership is one of the great strengths of any community, and it must be a central part of our vision for the revival of this region.
Some of the ideas are good. The Gulf Opportunity Zone is kind of an enterprise zone writ large and might spur some economic growth. I'm a little wary of the job training program since there has been some concern that these programs do very little to help people find jobs. The Urban Homesteading idea sounds good, but my concern is how a poor person could get a mortgage or if the influx of people wanting homes would swamp non profit housing agencies like Habitat for Humanity. On the whole, they are all good starting ideas, that need to be tweaked.
The President also noted that future large scale disasters might involve the military, something unheard of in America:
It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces, the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice.
These were all good promises. What remains to be seen and what is always the problem with the President is follow-through. From 9/11 to Iraq, the President has always had a great ideas, but his implementation has always been at issue. For the president to make this work and to also salvage his approval ratings, he needs to take charge and get on top of this. He royally screwed up in the first important hours after the Katrina hit, but he has a chance to repair that mistake if he can crack a few heads and spearhead the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast. If not, the GOP can expect the Chicago Effect to hurt the party in 2006 and 2008.