- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

Obviously focused on the politics of 2012 and not his constituents still reeling from the effects of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s address before a joint session of Congress was a huge disappointment.

Addressing the nation five months before the fourth anniversary of hurricane Katrina, Mr. Jindal delivered empty Republican rhetoric instead of making a solid case for the proper role of the federal government based on Republican principles illustrated by the progress being made in Louisiana with the help of Uncle Sam.

And Mr. Jindal should have begun his rebuttal with “Thank you.” Though initially slow, former President George W. Bush and Congress delivered much-needed federal aid. Thanks to the American people and their generous support, we are on the road to recovery. Since Mr. Jindal, my governor, didn’t say it, I will: Thank you.

Here’s the message I would have sneaked into Mr. Jindal’s teleprompter: “Mr. President, come visit us in Louisiana. Come see how we turn federal taxpayer funds into rebuilding projects that put people back to work and into their homes and communities, where crumbling schools that endured further damage from water and wind damage are now safely restored.

“But when you come visit us, Mr. President, please bring your beloved Blackberry with you. We’ll need you to call some of your employees. Because without the federal government’s help right now in finishing the tasks it helped us begin tackling, without its help cutting red tape from existing funds, our long road to recovery will be stalled.

“Thank you in advance, Mr. President, and may God continue to bless you and the people of the United States who helped us when that nasty hurricane blew over us and those darn levees broke.”

Mr. Jindal could have mentioned that $5 billion that should be working for the City of New Orleans is mired in red tape by bureaucrats who don’t like to make tough decisions. But he didn’t.

He could have called upon Mr. Obama to send Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to the Gulf to assist state and city governments in rebuilding the region’s infrastructure and supply of affordable housing. He didn’t.

He could have asked the president, who extended the federal Disaster Assistance Housing Program until the end of August, what will happen when more than 31,000 Louisiana residents will find themselves out on the streets smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. He didn’t.

He could have used a minute of his national exposure to call upon the president to send Attorney General Eric Holder to meet with the district attorney of New Orleans and other local and state law-enforcement officials to come up with a crime-fighting plan that would tackle the issue of 12 people being shot within 24 hours on the last day of Mardi Gras. He didn’t.

Mr. Jindal could have made a case for something close to my heart that played a large role in his remarkable rise in state politics - health care. He didn’t.

Instead, the governor told the story of how his father had to pay the hospital costs of his birth on the installment plan. In my case, the good people of Louisiana and the taxpayers of America paid for my birth, the birth of my eight siblings, New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin and countless others. We were all born at Charity Hospital, which sits closed and wounded after hurricane Katrina. Let’s talk about that.

Money is allocated in the federal budget to not only rebuild Charity but also the Veteran’s Affairs hospital, where my father, uncles and numerous other relatives who proudly served their country have sought treatment over the years. Yet Louisiana officials working in conjunction with the federal government cannot figure out how to cut through the red tape.

If the state doesn’t get the funds for both hospitals, it will cause even greater hardship for those trying to get back home. Mr. Jindal could have asked Mr. Obama to ensure that the Federal Emergency Management Agency gives the state its fair share of recovery money toward the rebuilding of these important hospitals.

Mr. Jindal could have asked Mr. Obama to commit to a Category 5 protection-level levee for my beloved New Orleans, which continues to provide America with a wealth of natural resources, such as oil and gas, seafood and a cornucopia of agricultural produce. He didn’t.

Equally vital to our national interests, the governor could have asked for coastal protection that stops the erosion of wetland areas and barrier islands that act as speed bumps for hurricanes. Such a request would have been a slam-dunk for a Republican governor eager to signal that his party cares about the environment. He didn’t.

I guess we’ll have to wait for Mr. Jindal to blossom into a true national leader and not just another politician looking for the next rung up the ladder of political ambition. Until then, can someone please send this column to the president of the United States?

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, a political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and is the former campaign manager for Al Gore.


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