Speaker should shut ‘big mouth’

America’s outpour of support for the victims of Hurricane Katrina is very heartwarming. Everyone from famous musicians, the NFL, our own University of Miami and ordinary people like you and me have given their time, money and/or voice to the great city of New Orleans. America is a team, and it’s great to see how we’ve come to the aid of our fallen teammate.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see how statements by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, made mere days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, can really strike a nerve-my blood certainly reached a boiling point. In the words of Congressman Hastert, it apparently made “little sense to spend billions of dollars to rebuild a city that is seven feet below sea level.”

Hastert’s credentials to make such a statement are quite impressive. According to his bio, provided so kindly by the House’s website, he rose to his position “from the cornfields of Illinois.” There is no indication in his bio that Hastert has been anywhere other than Illinois and Washington for extended periods of time, which leads to two logical assumptions: a) it’s very unlikely he’s ever been through a major hurricane, and b) he probably hasn’t been to New Orleans, unless he did for reasons that might jeopardize his political career and as such aren’t published on his website.

Also, his statement showed his complete lack of understanding of our economy. Now, I’m no economist, but I do realize the importance of New Orleans to the health of our economy, while the speaker of the House doesn’t-think about this, America. New Orleans is a major port, handling more sea traffic than Miami. Whenever the grain produced in Hastert’s state needs to be exported, most of it leaves the U.S. from New Orleans. Whenever Hastert enjoys his cup of coffee in the morning on Capitol Hill, chances are it entered the country through New Orleans. When Hastert pumps his gas (well, that’s highly unlikely, but if he did…), which at print time was pushing $3.20 in some parts of D.C., the crude most likely not only came into, but was also refined into gas, in the New Orleans area. Economically speaking, we cannot afford to abandon New Orleans. Are you listening, Denny Hastert?

I can’t even touch on the cultural benefits of reviving New Orleans-well, I’ll at least let Mr. Hastert know that New Orleans gave America unique food, jazz music and a historic tourist spot, and not just because of Mardi Gras or Jazzfest. You won’t find anything like the French Quarter in Springfield, that’s for sure.

Finally, I’d like to call attention to a disaster that befell Hastert’s district a decade ago: the Mississippi flooded and disrupted activity in Illinois. Also, the Midwest is notorious for being tornado-prone. In both cases, the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to the aid of Hastert’s region. In both cases, the areas were rebuilt. Does Hastert really have any right to question rebuilding New Orleans, considering this?

My advice to Dennis Hastert is to know what he’s talking about before opening that big mouth of his; the nature of his comments makes me believe he’s not fit to occupy the position he does. Mr. Hastert, if you’re listening, you’re clearly not fit to be speaker of the House if you speak like you did about New Orleans. In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” You’ve clearly removed that doubt in my mind, and the collective mind of the fine people of New Orleans, and “retracting” or “softening” your comments won’t change that opinion. Let someone else, preferably someone more competent and levelheaded, take over your position as speaker. The last thing New Orleans needs is insult added to injury.

Jay Rooney can be contacted at j.rooney@umiami.edu.