Debating in New Orleans

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

THE NONPARTISAN Commission on Presidential Debates will decide by October which four cities will have the privilege of hosting general election debates in 2008 between the Republican and Democratic nominees for president and vice president. Sixteen cities across the country have submitted bids for consideration. One of the cities pushing hard to be a host is New Orleans. We hope the commission gives that application serious consideration.

New Orleans meets the minimum yet substantial standards for host cities -- adequate facilities, public support and the like. The Republican National Convention was held there in 1988. The Super Bowl has been played there nine times, most recently in 2002. Traditionally, the commission has chosen college campuses for the debates as a way of getting students intimately involved in the political process. Because Dillard, Loyola, Tulane and Xavier universities are still coping with Katrina-related damage, they have banded together on this bid with the nonprofit group Women of the Storm and would host the presidential debate at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on the banks of the Mississippi. Foundation support to fund the event has been secured. Hosting one of the debates would be an enormous psychological boost for New Orleans.

You may be thinking: What Republican presidential nominee in his right mind would set foot in New Orleans for a debate? The question is reasonable, but the concern behind it is misplaced. The botched response to the devastation wrought by Katrina is not owned by the Republican Party. It was a bipartisan breakdown at all levels of government. New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin (D), Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) and President Bush (R) were faced with the biggest natural disaster in U.S. history and they failed miserably. Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Sam Brownback have joined Democratic senators who are seeking the White House in supporting New Orleans's bid.

The goal of these debates is to have the people who would lead this nation discuss their vision for the country and engage the American public in the process. Jobs, health care, emergency preparedness, education, community development, the environment and poverty are pressing national issues that have resonance in New Orleans. With the Crescent City as its backdrop and not its focus, a debate would take on a more poignant, pertinent and urgent air.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company