Friday, September 16, 2005

"Build higher"

The President's speech last night on hurricane Katrina started out as expected. Bush reassured the displaced families that his administration would be there to meet their basic needs as they got back on their feet. He also offered aid and oversight in the rebuilding efforts. It is worth noting that he took the opportunity here to remind the state and local governments that although the feds would be onhand to help, the ball was in their court as far as planning and prevention:

In the rebuilding process, there will be many important decisions and many details to resolve, yet we're moving forward according to some clear principles. The federal government will be fully engaged in the mission, but Governor Barbour, Governor Blanco, Mayor Nagin, and other state and local leaders will have the primary role in planning for their own future. Clearly, communities will need to move decisively to change zoning laws and building codes, in order to avoid a repeat of what we've seen. And in the work of rebuilding, as many jobs as possible should go to the men and women who live in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The President also addressed the poverty conditions that were exposed in the storm's aftermath -- and offered a new and decidedly conservative message: we don't just want you to rebuild, we want you to build higher:

Our third commitment is this: When communities are rebuilt, they must be even better and stronger than before the storm. Within the Gulf region are some of the most beautiful and historic places in America. As all of us saw on television, there's also some deep, persistent poverty in this region, as well. That poverty has roots in a history of racial discrimination, which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action. So let us restore all that we have cherished from yesterday, and let us rise above the legacy of inequality. When the streets are rebuilt, there should be many new businesses, including minority-owned businesses, along those streets. When the houses are rebuilt, more families should own, not rent, those houses. When the regional economy revives, local people should be prepared for the jobs being created.

Americans want the Gulf Coast not just to survive, but to thrive; not just to cope, but to overcome. We want evacuees to come home, for the best of reasons -- because they have a real chance at a better life in a place they love.

When one resident of this city who lost his home was asked by a reporter if he would relocate, he said, "Naw, I will rebuild -- but I will build higher." That is our vision for the future, in this city and beyond: We'll not just rebuild, we'll build higher and better. To meet this goal, I will listen to good ideas from Congress, and state and local officials, and the private sector. I believe we should start with three initiatives that the Congress should pass.

Tonight I propose the creation of a Gulf Opportunity Zone, encompassing the region of the disaster in Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama. Within this zone, we should provide immediate incentives for job-creating investment, tax relief for small businesses, incentives to companies that create jobs, and loans and loan guarantees for small businesses, including minority-owned enterprises, to get them up and running again. It is entrepreneurship that creates jobs and opportunity; it is entrepreneurship that helps break the cycle of poverty; and we will take the side of entrepreneurs as they lead the economic revival of the Gulf region.

This is an ambitious plan to say the least -- and I love it. Although Bush pays lip service here to the typical Democratic thinking behind poverty, the specifics of his plan show that he recognizes the real root cause. And he knows that the solution is not more hand-outs and dependency on government -- it is tax cuts and other incentives that will encourage the community to have a vision. He wants the poor in this region to know that they have the power to climb out of the rut they are in and build a better life for themselves. He also wants them to know that they have the power to kick Ray Nagin and Kathleen Blanco to the curb and realize their full potential as human beings.

Whether this plan will achieve fruition remains to be seen, but I hope that the idea at least begins to catch on. Poverty will always be with us in some form, and by no means should we ignore those who are genuinely in need. But so much of what we call poverty in this country can be overcome with just a change in attitude -- and a resolve not to listen to politicians and opinion makers who would have certain people believe that the cards are stacked against them.

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