Over at Your Right Hand Thief, oyster has asked an excellent question:
I’m puzzled by claims that assert New Orleans’ “decline” occurred recently. In terms of per capita wealth, the city “peaked” in the 1850’s; it was the highest of any American city. In terms of population, New Orleans peaked sometime in the 1960’s, and has declined ever since. In one of the debates, mayoral candidate Rob Couhig linked Moon Landrieu to this decline but failed to elaborate. What’s the general theory here? Where did it all go wrong, for those whose views parallel roux’s and polimom’s? Precisely why does Moon Landrieu deserve an inordinate amount of blame? Or does he?
His post is followed by a wonderful dialogue, and I’m glad to have come upon it — even if only to at least explain my own thoughts which kicked off some of the discussion. (Note: I started this post as a comment to oyster’s thread, but this would make a very long comment.)
A little history first: I left New Orleans long years ago. Shortly before I graduated from LSU, my Dad sold our house in Algiers and went back to Houston, so I stayed in BR. That was in 1983… so all of my New Orleans livin’ was pre-early 80s. (I self-identified as a New Orleanian, though, into the 90s, even after moving out of the South altogether.)
I’ve come back many times over the years, and stayed very close with a lot of folks, but I’ve been outside the daily impressions and intimate familiarity. As a result, the changes to the city have been in jolts rather than slow shifts in my eyes.
So – I don’t have a horse in this race, but I did… and someday I’d like to again.
Having said that — I don’t think of Moon as The Culprit, specifically. In fact, I don’t have a single person to hang anything on. For Polimom, the entire New Orleans situation / decline is hopelessly entwined with the economic failures that kicked in fully during the 80s (although the last really good Mardi Gras I remember was the year before the police strike – another line in the memory sand).
There’s a very long-standing political machine in Louisiana (generally) and New Orleans (specifically), and I think that the last 20-30 years have served to entrench and enrich the powerful at the expense of the city’s citizens. In particular, the systemic breakdowns of the school system and horrifying crime – which relate to the deteriorating tax base – were never addressed.
So what would have addressed that? A full-on push for business and industry, for one thing, and an attempt to wean the city’s economy from the tourism and restaurant industries as the sole driver.
To my mind, this isn’t about “race”, and it wasn’t just whites who “took flight” from Orleans Parish. The black professional class has also been on the move for a long time, and while New Orleans East is one destination, the truth is that the deterioration of conditions drove out the people who had the money to improve things – regardless of ancestry. I’m not trying to sweep the entire urban area into this; yes, there was more to the economy, but it was fed largely by suburbanites and the educated.
The political system in NOLA (particularly the leadership), right up to Nagin I think (though I could be missing someone) were carved from the same block, and depended on a zero-sum, stagnant economy that required an uneducated and unambitious working-pool to function. And no, I’m not advocating Nagin here either. Not being part of an entrenched political power structure does not by definition make one a good alternative.
So for me, anyway, it’s much bigger than just Moon Landrieu, or the Landrieu family.
In the comments on oyster’s blog, there’s a fair amount of discussion about whether folks who equate NOLA’s decline with the Landrieu name are bigots or racists. Obviously, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I suspect there’s probably some of that. I don’t think, though, that it can be safely assumed.
I’ve written some other posts that relate closely to this question:
Does New Orleans need a Republican (and no, I’m not a Republican…)
Myths, Strawmen, and “the best” for New Orleans – which is mostly about the perceptions of crime and the poor, but contains this:
Correlating Michigan with New Orleans seems a false parallel on the surface, but there’s a shared underlying theme: poor New Orleanians did not create the traps, and there were few avenues out. One cannot aspire to much beyond restaurant or hotel work with the equivalent of an 8th grade education in a tourism-based economy, yet that very economic base required a large population who would work at that level.
That really is the bottom line in my mind – the situation there evolved because it was the path of least resistance, leading to my biggest objection to Landrieu: the risk that he won’t make the necessary – and dramatic – changes required.
He’s part of a political way of life that has done things the same way for a very long time…