Tuesday, August 31, 2010

NOLA—and Obama—should be thankful for George W. Bush

Heritage’s Rob Bluey has a great opinion piece in the Daily Caller today, rightly placing credit for New Orleans’ degree of protection from future storms. 

Bluey gets it right and sadly, he seems to be the only conservative who does so.

Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime combination of meteorology, geography and hydraulics.  It’s not likely to happen again for a very, very long time.  But if it does, New Orleans stands a much better chance of surviving.

Credit for that goes to George W. Bush, and Bluey lays it out:

The city’s fortunes might be different had Bush not taken a deeply personal interest. His televised speech from Jackson Square two weeks after Katrina marked a turning point. Bush created the Office of Gulf Coast Rebuilding to coordinate the region’s recovery — an office Obama abolished earlier this year. And in 2008, Bush struck a landmark deal with Louisiana to pay back within 30 years its $1.8 billion portion of the hurricane prevention project.

“Thank you, Mr. President,” the Times-Picayune wrote after Bush granted the executive order.

Today there is growing confidence among residents about the new system being built to shield the city from a hurricane. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 74 percent of respondents were upbeat and 70 percent said the recovery was heading in the right direction. Louisianans also give Bush higher marks for his response to Katrina than Obama’s handling of the Gulf oil spill — by a margin of 54 percent to 33 percent, according to Public Policy Polling.

It helped that New Orleans remained dry after Hurricane Gustav hit in 2008. Now, two years after that storm, the system is even more robust. When construction and reinforcement of levees, flood walls and pump stations are done next June, the city will be protected from a hurricane twice the strength of Katrina, which had storm surge of up to 28 feet and waves up to 55 feet — the highest ever recorded in North America.

Karen Durham-Aguilera, the civilian director of the Corps’ Task Force Hope, credits the Bush administration for securing full funding for the project. That eliminated costly turf wars and bureaucratic holdups.

“We’re not even on the same universe as we were before Katrina,” Durham-Aguilera said of the threat posed by a hurricane. “There’s just no comparison. That’s why even during Gustav, when it was only partially complete, it held up. If we get hit this year — and we very well could — we’re better off than a year ago.”

Bluey is something of an outlier among conservatives in that he’s identified a successful federal endeavor—rebuilding the levee system—and giving proper credit for why it’s been successful.  There are two reasons why New Orleans is better protected now than at any time in its history: (1) The administration forced the US Army Corps of Engineers to use good science and (2) the administration forced the agency to develop a schedule for completion and stick to it.  The result: good government.  The Obama administration is just going along for the ride, and taking credit for the success when none is deserved.

On the other hand, conservative bloggers, pundits and talkers are following this line of thought.  These kinds of comments are neither wise nor helpful, because they demonstrate either naiveté or willful ignorance about New Orleans, the Hurricane Storm Damage Risk Reduction System (HSDRRS), or the root causes of the levee failures five years ago.  There are no ideological or political points to be scored by dismissing the “bellowing for federal dollars” and comparing the “people down there” to helpless infants. The federal government put the area at risk by constructing poorly designed levee systems.  Ergo, the federal government should be responsible for making it right.  And don’t even start the argument about whether people should live there or not.  New Orleans was placed where it was for strategic purposes, and it remains where it is out of national economic necessity.  The port of New Orleans isn’t closing, the oil and gas industry isn’t going anywhere and all of the people who make those industries work need a place to live. 

What the Bush  administration did—and did quite well—was make sure that the Corps got it right this time.  So far, so good.  The projects are on schedule.  The projects are within budget.  The projects use good science and engineering.  That’s good government, and conservatives should take notice when government gets it right. 

It doesn’t happen very often.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.