04/25/2008 11:35 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Can John McCain Save New Orleans?

So John McCain has gone to New Orleans and, encouragingly, said all, or most of, the right things. Credit where credit is due. McCain gains little political advantage from visiting New Orleans or talking about it at all - other than, possibly, ameliorating a stain on the Bush administration that has also attached itself to the Republican Party. But that's exactly what he ought to be doing. Any time a potential president lays down some benchmarks for the city's future it's a good thing

But does McCain really understand the city's predicament? That is, if he's elected will we get more than just some good rhetoric? Words can't hold back the sea.

Alas, McCain's domestic policy is a threadbare work-in-progress. There are no New Orleans-specific policies or plans on his website. The city's reconstruction and long-term safety require a serious, sustained federal commitment - that is, government has to actually start working well, and spend lots of money wisely. But McCain is arguing for an unsustainable course of continued, costly occupation in Iraq, additional tax cuts, and large spending cuts (a contradiction some of his N.O. questioners pointed out, to no avail.)

Doubtless, doing the right thing in New Orleans appeals to McCain's sense of American honor and greatness. And his hostility to earmarks and pet projects is also promising. More than anything, the porkification of U.S. spending has doomed New Orleans by transforming the levee system - a vital piece of public infrastructure upon which lives and the local economy depend - into just another local pork project. But these are attitudes - not plans.