05/08/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Rocky Road: Time Defends McCain's New Orleans Gaffe

As Sean Penn's eco-bus rolls through the desert with Everlast, Ben Harper and last-minute volunteers who left the Coachella Festival to attend this weekend's Jazzfest (properly referred to as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival PresentedbyShell), echoes of last weekend's Voices of the Wetlands at Jazzfest include Dr. John's: "They'll fix the wetlands in Iraq," and Johnny Sansone's "If this was New York, Chicago or LA, you think they'd leave us broke or come and fix us right away." It's not hard to learn which areas still need fixing in New Orleans, and ACORN is one of the groups raising awareness as they help rebuild the 9th Ward.

On Thursday, ACORN and Hillary Clinton chastised John McCain for his recent quote about New Orleans' devastated areas: "Rebuild it? Tear it down? You know, whatever it is." Time Magazine's Michael Scherer in a Swampland blog, and the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Holmes subsequently attacked Clinton for picking up on the McCain comment.


The Swampland blog reads: "The liberal group ACORN held a conference call Thursday to announce its outrage over McCain's alleged willingness to flatten the remains of flooded-out New Orleans. These charges came on the same day that McCain visited the Lower Ninth Ward, and they are almost entirely spurious." [Emphasis added].

The Wall Street Journal also denied that McCain's words had any link to what he meant with:
"Hillary Clinton tried to turn John McCain's trip to New Orleans against him on Thursday by stretching his comments about what to do with the Lower Ninth Ward."

Even if the statement that Clinton and ACORN rejected and the WSJ and Time defended was another gaffe or a senior moment, it was newsworthy enough to bring McCain to New Orleans on a mea culpa junket. Scherer's analysis of how the Senator's quote came about on the campaign bus includes the fact that "several reporters boarded McCain's bus in rural Alabama for a drive from a ferry dock to an ice cream store." A CBS News blog picked up the quote last Wednesday, and Swampland pointedly mentions that the blogger "was not traveling with the campaign." Almost every branch of the mainstream media ran with "bittergate," which was lifted from an OffTheBus blogger, but Swampland takes umbrage at a CBS blogger picking up on IceCreamRunGate, and at Clinton and ACORN for pointing it out.

Scherer admits he was absent for the ice cream and writes: "Now I was not on the bus when McCain said that quote, but I was traveling with McCain during this time. And all available evidence suggests that McCain meant something far narrower." The evidence of that narrower definition is McCain flying down to New Orleans and throwing the Bush administration under the bus by saying: "Never again, never again, will a disaster of this nature be handled in the disgraceful way it was handled." When asked about solutions, McCain said, "To protect the lives of American citizens we can always find money." His proposed tax cuts and potential 100 year war are going to make that money even more difficult to find two years post-Katrina. Swampland writes that McCain "was vague the [sic] funding levels he would endorse for these efforts, but clearly stated that helping the people of the Lower Ninth was a priority for him."

"Not the words of a man who "might want to tear down the Ninth Ward instead of rebuilding it," as Clinton put it," Scherer writes. He decries Clinton and ACORN interpreting McCain's comments "as a smoking gun--proof that McCain would not fund efforts to help the people of New Orleans recover." The proof is more likely in the fact that McCain voted against funding the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill that would have included billions for rebuilding, has opposed a full investigation of the response to Katrina, and voted against temporary emergency health care for Katrina survivors in 2005 when it could have saved lives. It still could.

In a sign that the city may begin to take center stage if all three candidates continue to debate who is angrier about the lack of recovery funding, New Orleans' Mayor and Louisiana's Governor have invited Barack Obama, Clinton and McCain to a YouTube New Orleans town hall debate in September, but none of the candidates have accepted yet.

On his way back to the airport Thursday and responding one more time to his "Rebuild it? Tear it down? You know, whatever it is," McCain said he didn't remember ever uttering the quote, and added that:

Our job is to create the environment that if they wish to come back to the Ninth Ward that they have the proper healthcare, the proper education and facilities, etcetera, etcetera.

To save a step, the Senator needs to know that nobody has to tear down the Ninth Ward. That was already done by a massive federal levee failure almost three years ago. And if McCain truly wants to make a statement in support of New Orleans recovery, Everlast and Ben Harper could probably use one more volunteer this weekend from the Straight Talk Express to Penn's Dirty Hands Caravan.