Edwards takes the Big Easy route

Amanda McCoy/Getty Images When John Edwards showed up at Orelia Tyler’s door on Wednesday in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, she was surprised. Tyler had asked local students for help spreading a mound of dirt in her backyard. Instead, she got a few dozen out-of-town reporters, some national news vans, a gaggle of ...

605180_edwards_tyler5.jpg
605180_edwards_tyler5.jpg

Amanda McCoy/Getty Images

When John Edwards showed up at Orelia Tyler's door on Wednesday in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, she was surprised. Tyler had asked local students for help spreading a mound of dirt in her backyard. Instead, she got a few dozen out-of-town reporters, some national news vans, a gaggle of children, and one presidential aspirant. Edwards returned to her front yard the next morning (with cameras in tow) to announce his candidacy for the White House. 

Ms. Tyler was grateful for the help—the dirt mound became, in the end, something resembling a backyard—but many New Orleanians aren't so happy to serve as a backdrop for John Edwards's political ambitions. I've been down in New Orleans visiting family this week. Residents who are even aware of the Edwards announcement see yet another politician swooping in, finishing a photo-op in the poor Ninth Ward, and moving on. Reaction on the Times-Picayune website is mixed, but many readers used words like "grandstanding," "fake," and "opportunist."



Amanda McCoy/Getty Images

When John Edwards showed up at Orelia Tyler’s door on Wednesday in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans, she was surprised. Tyler had asked local students for help spreading a mound of dirt in her backyard. Instead, she got a few dozen out-of-town reporters, some national news vans, a gaggle of children, and one presidential aspirant. Edwards returned to her front yard the next morning (with cameras in tow) to announce his candidacy for the White House. 

Ms. Tyler was grateful for the help—the dirt mound became, in the end, something resembling a backyard—but many New Orleanians aren’t so happy to serve as a backdrop for John Edwards’s political ambitions. I’ve been down in New Orleans visiting family this week. Residents who are even aware of the Edwards announcement see yet another politician swooping in, finishing a photo-op in the poor Ninth Ward, and moving on. Reaction on the Times-Picayune website is mixed, but many readers used words like “grandstanding,” “fake,” and “opportunist.”

Any news about New Orleans sheds light on this city’s stalling recovery effort, and that’s a good thing. But I can’t help but feel that Edwards’s choice of venue was about himself more than it was about the Big Easy. His spokesman said that New Orleans epitomizes the “two Americas” theme that Edwards invokes frequently in his speeches. Yes, New Orleans’s struggle is a story about poverty—but it’s also about corruption, inept bureaucracy at all levels, chronic underfunding, and the dangers of inertia. And there are plenty of other places in the U.S. where poverty is just as acute.

As for Ms. Tyler, her fixed-up house and backyard shouldn’t make you think that New Orleans is back on its feet. Filling the blocks surrounding her home are empty shells of gutted houses. Further south, the Lower Ninth is a wasteland of houses waiting to be bulldozed, some of them mere foundations. Other devastated neighborhoods never even make the news, but they’re almost as bad. Ms. Tyler’s house, one of the few inhabitable houses in the vicinity, is thus both a hopeful sign and an inaccurate picture of the larger story.

Carolyn O'Hara is a senior editor at Foreign Policy.

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