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What Bush should say

The Wall Street Journal has some pretty good ideas as to what Bush should say in his prime time address tonight.

President Bush addresses the nation on Hurricane Katrina tonight, and after keeping too quiet for too long there's a lot for him to say. We hope he tells Americans that such a demonstrable failure at all levels of government is a rare opportunity to change that government, not another excuse to expand it willy-nilly.
Only in Washington... could so much government failure be used to justify expanding the size and scope of government. Some emergency money is essential. But Congress has already appropriated some $62 billion, with essentially zero accountability, to be spent by such models of compassion as the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Another $100 billion may soon follow. Ted Kennedy has proposed that Congress create another Tennessee Valley Authority for the Gulf region. Give them one more week to panic, and Republicans on Capitol Hill will be demanding another Great Society.
Mr. Bush has a chance tonight to turn all of this around. Instead of channeling more cash through the same failed bureaucracies, he should declare the entire Gulf Coast region an enterprise zone, with low tax rates for new investments and waivers for any regulatory obstacles to rebuilding. He can also learn from California's 1994 earthquake experience--which former Governor Pete Wilson described here on Tuesday--and demand emergency powers to waive rules and allow bonus payments for contractors that finish projects ahead of time.

Above all, he can reframe the entire debate on how to help the poor of New Orleans. The people who couldn't flee the storm were not ignored by "small government conservatism," as if that actually still exists outside of Hong Kong. The city's poor have been smothered by decades of corrupt, paternal government--local, state and federal.

While Chicago and other cities leveled their public housing projects, the Big Easy has continued to run nasty places like the Lafitte homes. The city's crime rate is 10 times the national average, even as New York and other big cities have seen their rates fall. Its public schools are as bad as any, and its city government more corrupt than most. The last thing the poor need is to be returned to such tender, loving care.

This would include killing the idea, floated by the White House, of buying 300,000 mobile homes for the displaced. Governor Blanco wants to build communities of thousands of trailers for a year or more near Baton Rouge and Shreveport. Such shelter makes sense in some parts of the Gulf Coast where there literally is no housing stock left. But it is an act of insanity--defined as repeating the same mistake over and over--to recreate trailer-park versions of Lafitte on military bases, isolating the poor once again and returning them to dependence on the government. Far better to give them vouchers to find housing of their own, especially where there is unused rental space.

The same goes for the city's 77,000 displaced public school students. Their parents should be given vouchers for the equivalent of their tuition, with the option of using it at any school where they can find an opening, public or private. Charter schools should be allowed to expand immediately, and the Bush Administration could seek an emergency federal waiver of state charter laws to let them accept New Orleans kids now swamping other public schools.

Yeah, all sounds great. It also sounds like wishful thinking, unfortunately.


I like the voucher idea, too, as long as they follow up and make sure no schools, apartments, etc. are refusing to let the people move in. You know how landlords can be. They want to see proof of income, references, etc.

I really hate this idea of creating artificial, mobile-home communities. We can do better than that in America.

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