I profoundly wish my last post had been accurate about New Orleans’ close brush with catastrophe. As I’m sure you know, today has brought forth scenes of ever-growing horror in the Crescent City, as a large breach in the levees protecting the city from a swollen Lake Pontchartrain developed, pouring water into the Central Business District at a rate that is overwhelming the city’s pumping system. Mayor Ray Nagin estimated earlier today that 80 percent of the city is already flooded, and it’s not clear how efforts to plug the levee gap are progressing.This levee breach is exactly the “doomsday” scenario that so many in New Orleans have long feared. The only good news is that it happened after about four out of every five residents were evacuated. But that still leaves well over a hundred thousand people there as waters rise and food and water supplies begin to run out–more than 10,000 of them, including patients from flooded hospitals, taking shelter in the Superdome, fast becoming a sweltering nightmare. Yesterday’s widespread looting led to a declaration of martial law in three parishes in the area, though I would guess today’s flooding has put the kibosh on all but the hardiest thieves.Even if the levee breach is plugged, and the waters subside without major loss of life, New Orleans’ will be in trouble for some time, given the huge health hazards associated with contaminated water, toxic wastes and disease. Having once worked on a flood recovery project in Georgia (of a much smaller dimension), I can tell you that floods are the nastiest of natural disasters, and that public health problems really emerge when the big water’s all gone.All we can do now is watch, pray, and send what we can to the Red Cross.When it’s all over, we should all renew our faith in this wonderful city, even if it’s just by heading down there and helping revive its heavily tourism-based economy. If nothing else, perhaps those who just think of New Orleans as the French Quarter and jazz clubs will understand this is a living, breathing city with problems as immense as its charm.UPDATE, late Tuesday night: another levee breach has developed; efforts to close the first one have so far failed; and in general, the situation in New Orleans continues to deteriorate. The best single source of first-hand reports from the city is the blog-style coverage being offered by the Times-Picayune, which has provided sporadic but vivid stories of the disaster and its effects on people and their neighborhoods.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
Watching an intra-Democratic argument on voting rights strategy intensify in Washington, I offered some advice to both sides at New York:
There has been an underlying disagreement within the mostly Democratic coalition favoring voting rights that was nicely captured in this New York Times report on Friday:
“A quiet divide between President Biden and the leaders of the voting rights movement burst into the open on Thursday, as 150 organizations urged him to use his political mettle to push for two expansive federal voting rights bills that would combat a Republican wave of balloting restrictions … In private calls with voting rights groups and civil rights leaders, White House officials and close allies of the president have expressed confidence that it is possible to ‘out-organize voter suppression,’ according to multiple people familiar with the conversations.”
Both sides in this argument are partly wrong. Those who expect Joe Biden to force the For the People Act or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act through the Senate via some major revision in the ability to filibuster are probably expecting the impossible. Yes, perhaps if Biden personally and insistently and abrasively lobbied Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema to abandon her very consistent defense of the filibuster, up to and including encouragement of a primary challenge to her when she is up for reelection in 2024, she might decide her current and very insistent independent-maverick “branding” isn’t going to keep working for her. But Joe Manchin? He would be thrilled to get attacked by a Democratic president or Democratic advocacy groups for insisting that he won’t support voting-rights measures unless at least some Republicans support them. His state is so very red that the threat of a primary challenge to the sole remaining successful West Virginia Democrat is a laugher.
Short of a nuclear attack on West Virginia, it’s hard to identify anything Biden might do to Manchin that wouldn’t run a high risk of backfiring. And he does need Manchin on the reconciliation bills Democrats are using to get around the filibuster to enact Biden’s social and economic agenda. It’s just too bad voting-rights bills don’t qualify for reconciliation.
Yes, it is intensely frustrating that Biden cannot bring himself to come out forthrightly for filibuster reform, but it probably doesn’t matter since it is not happening unless the Democratic Senate Conference gets bigger, making senators like Manchin and Sinema irrelevant on the subject. So at some point voting-rights advocates need to focus on that goal.
At the same time, White House claims that Democrats can “out-organize voter suppression” are partially wrong as well. Yes, restrictive provisions like voter-ID requirements, limits on voting by mail, and even voter-roll purges can be countered and perhaps overcome by intensive efforts to educate and energize the voters Republicans are trying to keep from the polls. But you cannot out-organize a partisan gerrymander, or a law that lets election officials or state legislators overturn the outcome of an election after votes are cast.
Voting-rights advocates will eventually have to play the cards dealt to them by the system as it currently exists. That means refraining from too much anger aimed at Democratic pols who have little choice but to concede defeat on some legislation and concentrate on legislation (i.e., those reconciliation bills with many items vital to the people whose voting rights are also under attack) they can enact with no margin for error in the Senate and little in the House. At the same time, Biden and his staff and Democratic “pragmatists” in Congress should never for a moment be cavalier about the legislative obstacles they face in defending democracy itself. They may have to accept a tactical defeat on voting rights in this Congress. But they should never, ever, give up on making it happen later if not sooner.