Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Long time coming

My column this week considers the eerie similarities between a classic song and the political reality of post-hurricane Louisiana. Text of the column is copied below. Words to the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, "Long time gone" are here.

The night before Katrina churned ashore, a Baton Rouge radio station played Crosby, Stills and Nash’s “Long time gone” a song with lyrics as eerily suited to the mood that night and the months to come as the minor key of the melody. The song begins, “It’s been a long time comin’. It's goin' to be a long time gone, And it appears to be a… long, long, long, long time, Before the dawn.” No doubt the disc-jockey’s choice was driven by the ominous weather forecast and indications that Katrina was Louisiana’s long-feared “big one.” That’s probably why the music still plays in my head months later. But the more time that passes in post-Katrina Louisiana the more fitting the song becomes. Given budget shortfalls, levee breaks, population dispersion and politics as usual, Louisiana’s dawn is indeed far away. But don’t stop looking for similarities to Louisiana’s current situation after just the first few lines. Check the second verse: “Turn, turn any corner. Hear, you must hear what the people say, You know there's something that's goin' on around here, That surely, surely, surely won't stand the light of day...” The prescience of the line about something that won’t stand the light of day is hard to miss. Failures of the levees and the boards behind them fit that description perfectly. So, too, reports of abandoned and abused prisoners in state custody. Don’t forget images of empty New Orleans school buses parked in flooded lots. These examples of government failure and inept leadership surely don’t stand the light of day – although the national media is doing a better job of shining light on government failures than the state press. One of the ironies of state leadership’s concern that national attention is turning away from Louisiana is the likelihood that much going on around here couldn’t stand the scrutiny of the longed-for, sustained national media attention. Verse three encourages an end to apathy -- again frighteningly relevant to Louisiana -- with these lines, “Speak out, you got to speak out against the madness, You got to speak your mind, If you dare. But don't, no don't try to get yourself elected…” Initial public outrage in Louisiana about Katrina-related events has long since dissipated. Meanwhile, political motivation for action or inaction in response to Katrina has been evident since late August. Despite the litany of missed opportunities before, during and since Katrina, the apathy continues as does the political posturing. Louisiana’s post-hurricane fiscal and political disaster was indeed a long time coming. The problems won’t be fixed overnight, no matter how aggressive or proactive the leadership or the voters who put them there. But Louisiana’s dawn is far away and as long as the state takes only baby steps by trying to preserve as much as possible of the state’s current political system -- the very system responsible for this mess in the first place -- it’s possible dawn might never come at all.