Obama's Not-So-Easy Trip to the Big Easy

He gets slammed for making a short stopover in New Orleans before heading to a swanky fundraiser

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President Obama heads to the Big Easy today to review the city's ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina, but some say his trip is too short to do much good. Residents and critics believe the Obama administration isn't working fast enough to help New Orleans, and complain that he hasn't spent enough time in the region as president. Even pundits who give him partial credit for visiting admit that the president's schedule --a few hours on the ground in New Orelans before flying straight to San Francisco for a swanky Democratic fundraiser -- doesn't send a great message.

  • New Orleans Is Impatient, Michael D. Shear writes at The Washington Post. He says Obama has to fight the perception that the federal government doesn't care about the city. "Even before Air Force One touches down in New Orleans on Thursday afternoon, President Obama is discovering the burdens of rebuilding a city that feels abandoned by the federal government." And he says that while New Orleans may have been George Bush's disaster, is now undoubtedly Obama's recovery. "The responsibility for getting more federal help to New Orleans has now passed from President George W. Bush to Obama, and with it the impatience of the city's residents."
  • Obama Should Tour the Gulf Coast's Wetlands The New Orleans Times-Picayune calls the destruction of the region's wetlands a "national crisis" that must be addressed immediately. "Experts say we have no more than 10 years at best to launch serious coastal restoration work, before the problem becomes too vast and too costly to solve. President Obama must do more than just recognize that this is an emergency: the state and the nation need him to act." And they're demanding more money to solve the problem. "President Obama's 2010 budget request, which Congress approved earlier this month, included only $25 million for Louisiana Coastal Area projects. That isn't anywhere near what's needed to tackle this complex issue."
  • Don't Forget About the City's Children At Newsweek, Mary Carmichael uses the occasion to remind readers that New Orleans's children are more vulnerable than ever. That, Carmichael argues, is where the president's focus should be. "The more important statement Obama will make won't come in the form of a speech, and it won't be made on Thursday. It will consist of what his administration actually does over the next three years for the Gulf Coast's population, especially its children, who are still suffering mightily."
  • This Doesn't Look Good At The Los Angeles Times, Richard Fausset says Obama's short trip doesn't convey the sense of urgency he should have about New Orleans. "If the president has a chance to look out the window of his limo, he will probably get a firsthand glimpse of the massive logistical headache he has inherited: More than four years after Hurricane Katrina, 91,000 homes remain blighted in the city and in two nearby parishes, according to August figures compiled by the Brookings Institution." Fausset warns the president that he is in danger of looking as aloof about the city's problems as President Bush did. "The allegations haven't risen to Kanye West levels -- it was rapper West who famously alleged that former President George W. Bush didn't care about black people. But a handful of Republicans and others here have been grumbling loudly about what they see as scant executive attention to one of the worst disasters to befall a U.S. city."
  • Obama, of All People, Should Know That Image Is Everything¬† MSNBC's First Read says. "Because his first visit to New Orleans is less than four hours and the visit doesn't include other parts of the Gulf Coast, in particular, Mississippi, he's getting some heat. Fair? No. But remember, image is everything... he's benefitted more from image in the past; this is a rare occasion where he's taking a little heat."
  • Finish the Job, Then Take the Photo-Op Time Magazine's Michael Scherer isn't happy. He reminds the president that there's more work to be done. "As of August, nearly four years after the hurricane, the Brookings institution found that 152,904 households receiving mail in Orleans Parish, compared with 198,232 before the storm and 133,966 two years later. Some 62,557 homes stand vacant or abandoned. The work is in other words not yet done. And the people of New Orleans hope that the Thursday Obama visit will represent much more than just another photo op."
  • Have Patience With the President At the Grio, Melissa Harris-Lacewell, a professor at Princeton University, says Obama is making progress, and cautions that change takes time.

More than nine months into the Obama presidency, New Orleans has seen more activity and more attention than during the last few years of the Bush administration. That is a welcomed change. But as one might expect, more than four years after Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast residents are frustrated with the pace of recovery. Residents want levees, housing and medical care now. The president's administration has been working on each of these efforts but there is clearly a considerable amount of work to be done. Today's visit by President Obama's is desperately needed, because it is a chance for him to reaffirm his commitment to change in our region.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.