Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Was Anyone Listening?

The passing of President Ford made me reflect a bit. I haven’t mentioned it because I had nothing to add. The networks and newspapers did a better job of covering his life and legacy than I ever could. Still, I was reading a bit yesterday when I stumbled upon a Frank Rich editorial about President Ford which gave me food for thought.

Rich focused on a speech by Ford as it related to the then on-going war in Vietnam, but President Ford was also talking about what makes the American people great. Of course, this speech can be considered in the light of the Iraq debate, but it can also be applied to the struggles that currently confront the people in New Orleans.

Since the Iraq/Vietnam comparison has been made by countless others, I will not dwell on that. How many times do you need to hear that the U.S. should start to withdraw from Iraq? How many times does it need to be said that the President should listen to the American public.

Polls show that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to increasing troop levels. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was on Fox News saying that she was going to the Middle East to listen to various governments.

Does this mean that, for the last three-plus years our leaders haven’t been listening to people? Why do I even ask that question? Let’s hope that there will be more listening to dissenting views, both domestically and abroad, for the next two years.

Rather, I point out that President Ford spent a good deal of time in this specific speech talking about working together. He spoke of realizing that the American people thrive on their ideas. Not of ideas from Republicans or Democrats, Conservatives or Liberals. I think the entire country has a significant interest in seeing the city of Baghdad/New Orleans rebuild as quickly as possible. The nation also benefits from New Orleans/Baghdad being as strong as possible. (Even if the rest of the country didn’t care about New Orleans and its people, there’s all that oil that is garnered and refined there.)

This means that we need to learn something from this crime wave, and the people rising up against it. We speak of a past where neighbors looked out for one another. Whether that is truth or myth, New Orleanians need to do that again. Thousands marched on city hall. Everyone agrees on the need to reign in a crime wave. Everyone should likewise be able to work across political, class and culture lines to help rebuild New Orleans. While the prospect of this joint effort appears unlikely in the fertile crescent, it is certainly possible in the Crescent City.

There is plenty of time, later, for partisan bickering, when Nagin fans can hash it out with Landrieu fans, and Jefferson fans can bicker with Carter fans. For now, the task in front of all of New Orleans is daunting. Listen to everyone, every point of view. Take everyone’s ideas into consideration. With this in mind, New Orleans will come back stronger than ever. President Ford gave very similar advice while speaking at the Tulane Field House. Was anyone listening?

After the Saints euphoria has died down, as it inevitably must, the joint effort, which was apparent when the citizens marched on City Hall, should be garnered into a force for change. There will be numerous people talking about strategies; maybe some people will try listening as well.

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