City Journal column reprinted on the Wall Street Journal's website. Excerpt:
For generations now--and this is the city's deepest problem--New Orleans has hobbled along without a real law-and-order presence. Criminals graduate from petty crimes to burglary to drug-dealing to carrying illegal weapons to gang robberies to murder, and face few consequences at any stage. The police, and especially the prosecutors, are ineffectual. Since Katrina, things have gotten much worse, in part because criminals, finding life difficult in cities that enforce the law, have returned to the Big Easy in numbers disproportionate to those of law-abiding citizens. Mayor Ray Nagin doesn't try to fix things, perhaps because, as he often says, he believes crime is a social problem, rooted in a lack of opportunity for poor youth.
The Bush administration has deployed extra federal law-enforcement agents to try to get the worst criminals off the street. The state of Louisiana, meanwhile, has sent the National Guard to patrol half-empty neighborhoods. But just as the U.S. military can only do so much in Iraq when Baghdad's local government is ineffective, the federal government can't do much in New Orleans until the city's local government changes its attitude and behavior. Residents have no reason to think that criminal behavior has predictable negative consequences, because Mr. Nagin and District Attorney Eddie Jordan have failed to make clear that people who commit crimes in New Orleans will be prosecuted.
But President Bush can use federal dollars to try to convince them to do it. In his speech in New Orleans today, Mr. Bush should announce that he's ready to ask Congress for $500 million over two years to overhaul New Orleans's police and prosecutorial forces. But he also should say that the money is contingent on a pledge from Messrs. Nagin and Jordan that their city's No. 1 priority will be law enforcement. Mr. Bush should also tie the federal money to measurable results: rational arrests (from quality-of-life crimes all the way up to homicide), effective prosecutions and, ultimately, fewer crimes.
It's an enduring mystery why Mr. Bush hasn't used the Katrina disaster to show the world that America can rebuild a major city using a bedrock conservative principle: law and order first. Democrats are welcome to propose the same idea, of course. Mr. Obama, Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Clinton have all mentioned New Orleans's crime problem in their recent speeches. But they often tie it to a lack of staff and equipment in the city after Katrina--as if it's a question of rebuilding something that was lost, instead of building from scratch the most essential component of any city's success. Until politicians understand that basic difference, spending more money--or bragging about past billions spent--while tolerating intolerable conditions in a first-world city is nothing short of disgraceful.