Sen. Clinton Brings It in New Orleans

05/25/2011 12:05 pm ET
  • Stacy Parker Le Melle Communications Director for the Afghan Women's Writing Project and Author of 'Government Girl: Young and Female in the White House'

When Sen. Clinton announced her Presidential Gulf Coast Recovery Agenda in New Orleans this past weekend, she unveiled the most thorough plan-of-action proposed by any of the major Democratic candidates. So much so, she even dubbed it a "Mini-Marshall Plan" for the region.

I never thought I'd get so excited by a ten points on a page. Click here to read the full document.

Reading it, I felt like I should be telling Mr. Rourke to extend my stay -- the fantasy was that good. Is this what the federal government can do when it wants to? Sure, these are just words on paper, but the three leading contenders -- Clinton, Obama, & Edwards -- exhibit commitment to delivering in the region.

I was most impressed by Agenda point number one: "Elevate the Gulf Coast Federal Building Director." If elected, Sen. Clinton would move the director out of Homeland Security and into the West Wing. The director would report directly to her and meet with her weekly. Perhaps she was inspired by John Edwards' announcement remarks. Back in December he said that if he had been president he would "have had someone coming in my office every day, [asking] him, 'What did you do yesterday? What do we need to do today?'" Maybe Edwards was the first to articulate this desire, but Sen. Clinton was the first one to codify this within the framework of a plan.

We can't underestimate the power of this kind of focus. The Senator may have her oft-numerated flaws, but this is one woman who knows how to demand the best of those who report to her. If I were one of her staffers, I could imagine nothing worse than stepping into the Oval and telling her I didn't get the job done. Serious West Wing action, attention, and consequences-for-failure are what the Gulf Coast needs and deserves.

The Senator also promises to "immediately order an independent, stern-to-stern review of the Army Corps of Engineers' plans and progress thus far." This can't happen soon enough. We already know there are major flaws in the new construction (as if the story could get worse). She also promises to establish a Katrina/Rita Commission, modeled on the 9/11 Commission. To rebuild trust, you need truth--straight truth, as best discerned by independent investigators. Despite what Sen. Lieberman says, Americans deserve a full explanation of what went wrong with the levees and the emergency response. (To learn more about the Corps' culpability and previous calls for an 8/29 Commission, visit Levees.Org)

(And to those of you who like to think that New Orleans is so other, so inscrutable, as to be a veritable hall of mirrors where truth slips behind corners, I ask, please, stop using this mythology as an excuse not to do the right thing. This isn't Heart of Darkness, Creole-style. And even in those moments it might just seem to be, we shouldn't be afraid to go to murky places in the search for truth and understanding.)

Not mentioned specifically in the Agenda, but just as laudable was her call for Charity Hospital to be reopened. Charity is where so many New Orleanians received care from cradle-to-grave. "Charity" wasn't just a name -- Charity was where went if you didn't have insurance, and where you wanted to go if you had a bad car accident, given its excellence in emergency medicine. I've talked to folks who don't fit the typical uninsured profile who always knew that if worse came to worst they always could count on Charity. That net, among many, has been missing post-Katrina. (Charity was also one of the last hospitals to be evacuated. To read the powerful story of a physician who was there to the very end, click here).

This is no time to be cynical. We have to support candidates when they go out on a limb and push policies that up unto this point, precious few electeds have had the energy, desire, or will to support. We have to continuously remind electeds that Gulf Coast recovery is a national issue, one that all of us care about, regardless of whether or not we live in the region.

I hope the other candidates will see this as a gauntlet thrown. How excellent it would be if all the major candidates were outdoing themselves, trying to best each other fighting for the best Gulf Coast recovery plan possible.

This need not be the realm of fantasy any longer.