Bush visited New Orleans and the Gulf Coast yesterday

Published 7:59 pm Friday, August 22, 2008

President George Bush visited New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast yesterday and declared that they are coming back and bragged on his administration’s efforts to help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

People living in both places and still struggling to put their lives back together pretty much ignored him. They have learned that what he says is often far from what happens. Perhaps he should have listened to them rather than expecting them to listen to him.

George Bush’s presidency is filled with failure and the recovery, or lack thereof, from Hurricane Katrina is just the most obvious one in this part of the country.

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He speaks of all the money “committed” to help with the recovery, ignoring how little of it actually arrives on the scene and how little of that which does is actually spent on helping with the recovery. Much of the recovery made in this region has been because of individual effort and with the aid of volunteers coming from elsewhere.

The college students who have made New Orleans and the Gulf Coast destination spots for their vacations have done far more than George Bush and his administration to help with the recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

I find it heartening that students who would have gone to wild, drunken beach parties in Florida and along the East Coast in the past are now traveling to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast where they sweat under our hot sun and in our humidity with the sobering task of helping people rebuild their homes and lives.

Yes, I know. Some students still head to the party places, but those places seem a little less crowded these days than they have in past years.

Still, college presidents are debating lowering the drinking age to 18 as part of an effort to combat binge drinking by students around their campuses by bringing them back on campus and policing the drinking.

What I find really disheartening, though, is that it took an event such as Hurricane Katrina to distract some of these students from the vacation parties.

I’m not going to jump into the debate about the drinking age, though I do remember going from Camp Lejeune, N.C., where I could have a beer at the age of 19, to 29 Palms, Calif., where I couldn’t, and sitting around the slop hut with some Marines who had just returned from the war in Vietnam and who couldn’t have a beer either. They could kill and die at 18 or 19 or 20, but not have a beer.

Rather I’m going to say that the college presidents might take a look at the students who have come down here to help with the recovery from Katrina and with Habitat for Humanity houses. They might want to look into what motivates those students to take that route and see if they can’t find a way to motivate other students to take the same or similar routes.

There are lots of places around this country where help is needed. The area in the Midwest struck by floods this spring is an example. Florida, virtually the whole state, is going to need help when Fay finally leaves. She may not have blown down much, but according to news accounts, she has flooded a lot of the state.

Habitat for Humanity and similar organizations are always needing help. When Michelle and Will Patrick were in Aventura, Fla., while Will Pat was stationed in Miami by the Navy and Michelle was attending Barry University, they became involved in Habitat for Humanity.

I’m not proposing that the college presidents make such activity mandatory, but they sure could make it an attractive option by offering various incentives from reductions in tuition to college credit that would actually help towards a degree.

That may not reduce the amount of binge drinking without lowering the drinking age, but I suspect that it will. Doing sobering and heartening work is uplifting and has the side effect of causing participants to do constructive thinking. It also helps a lot of people who need help.

What is disheartening is that much of the recovery that George Bush saw on his visit to our region was that done by volunteers and not done as a result of any real effort on the part of his administration, though he was taking some credit for all of it.

He would do better to join former President Jimmy Carter with a hammer and saw on Habitat for Humanity projects.