THE NATION first saw this back in the age of newsreels, with the homespun, strutting demagogue Huey Long giving his dirt-poor subjects some of what other Americans had taken for granted for decades, but giving himself a lot more off the top as he plotted to take the White House from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
A couple of decades later, a nation returned to watch the televised spectacle of Huey's little brother Earl crowin' all the way to the funny farm . . . yanked from the loving arms of New Orleans stripper Blaze Starr and thrown into a rubber room, paranoid and stained purple from the grape juice he had taken to pouring over his head.
Two decades after that, America tuned back in to marvel at the grafting -- and womanizing -- antics of the Silver Zipper, one Gov. Edwin W. Edwards, whose present address is the federal prison at Oakdale, La.
Three years ago, television -- and Hurricane Katrina -- introduced a national audience to da mayuh uh Noo Orluns, "Crazy" Ray Nagin, who proceeded to cry and cuss on the radio as his city drowned, then presided -- of a fashion -- over the half-hearted rebuilding of a self-proclaimed "Chocolate City" . . . and an exploding murder rate.
Nagin went on to say the murder spree at least kept the city's "brand" out there. This before he, ultimately, ended up proclaiming himself a "vagina-friendly mayor."
KATRINA GAVE US NAGIN, and now Gustav has given us Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet. According to the Houma Courier, things ain't good after the hurricane down on the bayou in Houma.
And you probably would have heard about that already had Terrebonne's very own Boss Hogg managed to be at least half as entertainingly whack as Nagin.
But Claudet has been anything but. The best the man could muster, says the Courier editorial board, was to hand off the reins of post-deluge power to Roscoe P. Coltrane and slink off to mutter about those damn Duke boys:
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT'S response to Katrina, of course, proves that abject incompetence and a tendency to melt down are not phenomena found only within the borders of the Gret Stet.
Terrebonne’s response to Hurricane Gustav has been hampered by poor communication from parish officials, and most of the responsibility rests with Parish President Michel Claudet.
Problems started long before Claudet ceded his leadership of the parish’s hurricane efforts Tuesday to Sheriff Vernon Bourgeois — something no one got around to announcing to residents until a day later. They started before the storm, as Claudet and his emergency-preparedness director, Jerry Richard, refused to answer even the most basic questions from reporters and the public about what the parish was doing to prepare.
One of the greatest examples is an e-mail received by The Courier and various Louisiana TV stations and newspapers Aug. 29, as Gustav strengthened and forecasters projected with increasing certainty that the hurricane would hit here or somewhere dangerously close.
Neither the name associated with the e-mail, nor the subject line, includes anything that would indicate it is an important notification or that it even came from Terrebonne Parish government. The subject line reads, simply, “press release.” Open it, and here is exactly what it says, in its entirety:PRESS RELEASEThat was it?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 29, 2008
6:00 A.M. or 0600 hrs. (8/30/08) the EOC will be fully operational.
Mandatory evacuation 4 pm (1600) Saturday, August 30th by declaration of Parish President Michel Claudet.
You would think an announcement of that magnitude would have warranted elaboration from the parish president – not a minion or spokesman but the man charged with the wellbeing of 110,000 residents whose lives and property were threatened by a powerful hurricane. And not just to the media but to the people he represents.
Throughout this storm, our questions to Claudet and Richard have mostly been met by vague answers, unreturned phone calls, evasiveness or a parish president and emergency director who say they are too busy to tell the people what they are doing to protect them. Sometimes, they simply hang up.
Claudet told the Parish Council, whose members questioned at a meeting Thursday why they, too, have been left out of the loop, that knocked out cell phones and other technological problems impeded communication during the storm.
Once the phones came back on, he said, “all hell broke loose” as officials worked to respond to myriad callers.
“No one can prepare for something like this,” Claudet told the council. “It’s impossible.”
But you do start to wonder, though, when two hurricanes in three years produce a pair of unrelated meltdowns in basic governance and crisis management. Especially within the context of a state much better at elevating crooks and cartoon characters to high office than statesmen.
Real people suffer because of this stuff. Real progress is stillborn because of this stuff. Louisiana and the American taxpayer ultimately pay a price because of this stuff.
You won't read about any of it in the national press, just like you won't read about the horrendous damage done by Gustav to the state beyond New Orleans' miraculously unbreached levees.
MAYBE IF CLAUDET -- better sooner than later -- pours some grape juice over his head, boinks a stripper, gets hauled off to the booby hatch and then federal prison somebody in a New York newsroom will notice the sufferings of south Louisiana.
HAT TIP: Your Right Hand Thief.