Mardi Gras is the season in New Orleans for having a good time–for some people too good a time–and in my opinion, the Katrina-embattled city sure could use it. That’s the way a lot of New Orleanians think, too, so they’re out parading and dancing in the streets, although on a somewhat reduced scale. For one thing, the city’s businesses, closed for weeks and even months for Katrina cleanup, could sure use the tourist money. So who can fault them for setting aside their hardships for a few days to have a good time, show some civic pride, and hold their signature celebration?
Who can fault them? Well, our out-of-town liberal elite pundits sure can. Here’s Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, tut-tutting the New Orleanians for daring to revel when they should be home beating their breasts:
“Down in New Orleans they’re having Mardi Gras, and I don’t know whether the rest of us are supposed to laugh or cry.
“Let’s see: Vast tracts of the city are mold-infested and uninhabited, some neighborhoods are reduced to rubble, two-thirds of the population is dispersed around the country, more than a thousand people are dead, the levees around the city are patched together, in just three months or so a new hurricane season begins — and the people of New Orleans are spending precious time and energy to throw a humongous party in the streets.
“Last fall, even before the devastating floodwaters had receded, the shape of this year’s post-tragedy Mardi Gras had become a matter of serious public debate, the stuff of impassioned letters to the editor. Anyone who dared suggest that maybe the city ought to think about skipping the party, just this once, was peremptorily dismissed — not just the know-nothing outsiders (like me) who couldn’t possibly understand, but also the displaced evacuees sitting in cramped apartments outside Houston or Dallas, stunned that their hometown would stage a Mardi Gras that so many of its people couldn’t possibly come home to enjoy.”
OK, where to start.
First, earth to Robinson: Mardi Gras, believe it or not (and sure, it can be hard to believe) has some religious significance. With its historic French population (that’s why they call it the French Quarter, Gene), New Orleans is a Catholic town, and celebrating Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, with great hijinx is a centuries-old tradition for Catholics. You let it all hang out on Mardi Gras, then you go to church on Wednesday, confess your sins (including the ones you committed on Tuesday), and then spend 40 days doing penance. Telling the Catholics of New Orleans they can’t celebrate Fat Tuesday is like telling the Muslims of New Orleans they can’t celebrate Eid, their own blowout after their fasting season of Ramadan, or like telling the Jews of New Orleans that they can’t celebrate Purim with merry parties that break mid-winter gloom.
But more important, don’t New Orleanians deserve a break? Many of them conducted themselves with courage, even heroism, in combatting the devastation of Katrina, and many of them depend for their livelihoods on the income that Mardi Gras brings them. New Orleans is a city that long before Katrina was imploding from within thanks to poor urban management and lack of economic investment; now, it’s trying desperately to rebuild and refashion itself. I applaud the brave and resourceful residents of that city for refusing to be demoralized by an appalling catastrophe, who want to pick the pieces and return to life as usual, including Mardi Gras as usual. Only the most dour of liberal-elite puritans would want to deny them this simple pleasure.
And of course, if you read Robinson’s column, which contains the usual measure of Bush-bashing, you won’t see a word of castigation for some of the people most immediately responsible for the debacle that followed the Katrina flood: Mayor Ray Nagin and his administration. Oh no, we can’t blame them. Instead, let’s point the finger of blame at the ordinary citizens of New Orleans who want to spend a few days having their traditional good time.