Ahhh, yes, local columnist Lolis Eric Elie has got it about "Dollar Bill" Jefferson's recent indictment:
Jefferson's trial date has yet to be set. In the meantime, in all matters related to court proceedings, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
But in the court of public opinion, to be indicted is to be convicted. And the presumption of guilt that colors much of the public opinion surrounding Jefferson is applied carelessly and thoughtlessly to the people of Louisiana in general.
Elie has pinpointed a few other politicos who are now languishing behind bars and has pointedly said that the feds haven't gone one step further and treated the convicts' more lawful colleagues from their states as peons who must grovel for federal funding and help. It might well be because the more recent Louisiana politicos haven't been able to pull off their illegal hijinks with a blend of charisma and chutzpah in the same way that this guy did for a long, long time:
He could run from prison right now and win. He just would...At his sentencing, the judge kept calling him Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Later, Buddy said to someone, "If I'm Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, how come I didn't get two [expletive] paychecks?" That's Buddy in a nutshell.
As filmmaker Michael Corrente noted in the interview, Cianci indirectly helped out Corrente's film career by keeping a vital theater company in Providence alive. Buddy Cianci was a crook, indeed, but a charismatic one who loved his city in a twisted manner and wasn't afraid to wear that on his sleeve if it would get him and the city what was needed. For every gesture he made in presiding over Providence's renaissance, there was another that only served himself. And yet, the man is still respected as a lovable rogue who brought a former industrial power of a city back from the brink of economic depression.
As far as the most recent vintage of Louisiana politicos goes, maybe a completely different way of putting Louisianans across to the rest of the country is needed. Many of us NOLA bloggers have said they didn't elect Jefferson and are living our lives despite the fact that the necessary change was not made in the polls on election day. A "parallel lines" theory of life in the Pelican State obviously ain't gaining us any friends from amongst the feds or across this country. And Jefferson ain't in the "charismatic rogue" mold that would cause prominent people down here to come to his aid, even begrudgingly.
Some have advocated a separatist movement in the service of the greater New Orleans area: if the feds are gonna squeeze the life out of this city in the manner of a cruel jailer dispensing water torture (heh) to a prisoner, then we need to break out of that squeeze. Make this a truly open city.
And yet...and yet...we might still be damned if we do:
That old joke by Groucho Marx had been inverted: he'd never want to belong to a club that would have us as members. Well, if that wasn't arrogance, if that wasn't elitism, we didn't know what was. And what did that attitude leave him with? Probably a very boring existence. He could attend civilized concert recitals though never himself join a quartet. He was allowed to read novels as long as he didn't participate in any book club. He could walk his dog but his dog was forbidden from entering a dog park where he might be forced to commingle with other pet owners. He didn't engage in political debate. That would demand he'd join in. No religion, either, for what was religion but one group seeking a richer dividend than the others? His was a joyless, lonely, principled life.*
Think of the "he" as New Orleans, the "us" as the rest of America. America, manipulated largely by a "if you ain't for us, you're agin' us" government, by political parties that share the same attitudes, by a mainstream media that runs on these, and many other, black and white attitudes. Jefferson's indictment is another black and white issue that everyone in this country probably agrees is black and white - but for different reasons. For Louisianans, it confirms what everyone here has always known about the man, except the timing could have been better...like, maybe this should have been done before the Congressional elections that put him back in office, or before Katrina...weeeelllll before. For everybody else, it confirms what they have already assumed about Louisiana politicians and the people who have put them in office.
And yet, it doesn't.
But who looks beyond the media outlets these days? Too much time, too much effort.
They're very convincing people...That's the whole problem, of course. They can convince you of anything.*
Please, folks, how best can we overcome this decades (and possibly over a century)-in-the-making problem/perception? Because we aren't being granted a second chance to make a first impression, and who knows if we ever will get that.
*Joshua Ferris, Then We Came To The End
Oooh! I also got a response last month to this slight prodding of Elie on my part. Check it!:
Dear Ms. C,
Thanks for the heads up on these blogs. I got a similar message from the folks at NOLAFugees.
I'll check these out.
Lolis Eric Elie