As he nears the end of his two terms as the Big Easy’s mayor, the truth about Mitch Landrieu is he has a staggeringly meager legacy.
This is true of most politicians. It’s particularly true of most urban Democrat politicians, and even more particularly true of that sub-genre since the Democrats have mastered the art of weaponized governmental failure — in which policies auguring demonstrably and predictably bad results are sold under the auspices of “social justice” and instituted, with the results driving a loss of the taxpaying middle class to jurisdictions not run by Democrats. This is failure, but it is not calculated as such; when those middle-class taxpayers decamp for the suburbs they take with them any real hope of competition with the urban Democrat machine in town, and that machine is guaranteed to rule.
It will rule over a ruin in due time, surely, but rule it will.
Landrieu’s legacy is not of creating weaponized governmental failure in New Orleans — it was his father, the comically corrupt Moon Landrieu, who ran the city into the ground in the 1970s, who deserves that credit. To be sure, Mitch has contributed to the city’s failure — New Orleans’ roadways are of worse quality than ever, he wrought abject destruction of the city’s embattled police force by inviting Eric Holder’s Justice Department down to “reform” it, which resulted in a consent decree essentially codifying hug-a-thug policing in one of America’s hotbeds of hardened criminals, and his mercilessly petty and corrupt regulatory state has stifled a surprisingly vibrant local economy left to him upon Ray Nagin’s departure in 2010. (Nagin’s buffoonery and disinterest had a salutary effect, as it turns out; his administration was so sluggish in its operation that it functioned almost as a libertarian’s dream, and business flourished in the post-Katrina recovery period.)
Meaning that Landrieu is a wholly unremarkable, mediocre, and forgettable figure. With a few meager exceptions, none which have to do with performance but most of them, perhaps, to do with why Landrieu is plunging forward with a destructively stupid effort to cleanse his city of 19th-century historical landmarks. First, that is, he’s Moon’s son — and Moon Landrieu was a panderer to the black community with no equal save perhaps for Bill Clinton.
Second, perhaps, is that Mitch is New Orleans’ white mayor following four black mayors who succeeded his father. And Mitch won both election and re-election in a majority-black city by a wide margin.
Which does not suggest policy accomplishment. It suggests politics, and identity politics at that.
This is the brother, after all, of Mary Landrieu, the recently-deposed U.S. Senator (Bill Cassidy swamped her in the 2014 elections; she’s a well-paid Washington lobbyist now) — she of a revealing characterization of Louisianans as racists to explain why she and her party had lost their electoral luster in the state.
For someone like Mitch, whose lack of success as New Orleans’ mayor all but foreclosed any prospect of statewide office following his sister’s defeat, what legacy was available was to punish Louisiana’s “racist” majority voters in the only way he could — namely, by signing on with the gaggle of race-hustlers, wannabe intellectuals, beatnik neo-Communists, and dashiki-wearing blowhards comprising the Take ’Em Down NOLA collective seeking to remove four monuments laid down by New Orleans’ previous majority. Mary Landrieu’s defeat at the hands of a population which, in the eyes of an elitist ruling-class liberal, approximates that which established monuments to such luminaries as Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and P.G.T. Beauregard in the Crescent City’s former time gave Mitch all the motivation he needed to embark on a pander to the black community of which his father could be proud.
That more than two-thirds of Louisiana’s population in poll after poll resoundingly rejects the idea of erasing the city’s historical landmarks hasn’t stopped Landrieu’s two-year crusade to remove them. And following the last-ditch court challenges of the mostly white, mostly suburban Monumental Task Force crowd seeking to preserve the statues, on Monday the first of four came down. That one was an obelisk instituted in 1891 to mark the Battle of Liberty Place, an 1874 Gangs Of New York-style street brawl in which the city’s competing elected governments — a white supremacist Democrat regime and a carpetbagging, corrupt and perhaps illegitimate Republican administration — fought it out on a public thoroughfare. The Democrats won, a result which played a part in the 1876 “corrupt bargain” in which Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president in dubious circumstances in return for the end of Reconstruction in the South.
Most in New Orleans agree that, of the four statues in Landrieu’s crosshairs, the Liberty Place monument is the least useful to defend. It celebrates a tawdry victory by the precursor to a backward, racist, and morally vacant political era in the city — Democrats have controlled New Orleans, to its ever-deepening degeneration, since Liberty Place — and the special price paid by the city’s black community for that ugly white regime merits a creditable argument for its removal. The Liberty Place monument isn’t even much as artwork.
But as to the other three, which as of this writing still stand, this isn’t true. The statues of Davis, Lee, and Beauregard stand as exemplars of the art of their time, and their subjects — particularly in the case of Lee and Beauregard — belong on display in New Orleans.
Beauregard was from the next-door community of Chalmette, after all; it was at Chalmette where the Battle of New Orleans was actually fought at the close of the War of 1812. He was a highly accomplished soldier and engineer, and unfortunately for him a slightly less accomplished politician. After the Civil War — Beauregard fought for the Confederacy, but it seemed he had little choice, as he was fired from his post as the superintendent at West Point upon Louisiana’s secession, and kicked out of the U.S. Army without having been asked which side he would be on — the man ran and lost an almost unlosable campaign for mayor of New Orleans because of his pro-civil rights platform. Following that he later designed what became the city’s streetcar system. His beautiful equestrian statue is rumored to be the next of Landrieu’s targets and could be gone by the time many of our readers see this column.
When Landrieu secured a 6-1 vote of New Orleans’ majority-black city council to designate the monuments a “nuisance” under a city ordinance allowing for their removal, he guaranteed a transparent process by which a licensed, bonded contractor would be selected in an open bid process and that no city funds, but rather private donations, would pay for the removal.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, Landrieu got one bid from a contractor for some $600,000 for the removal, a number greatly beyond the $170,000 he said he had for the project, and that contractor’s license was for debris removal. And when the Liberty Place monument came down, it wasn’t that contractor’s workers on site — it was New Orleans Fire Department officials and volunteers. Word had it Tuesday that two fire companies were stood down on Sunday night so that their firemen could don masks and helmets and man equipment donated by the New Orleans Sewage and Water Board to pull down the obelisk. Landrieu’s hand-picked fire chief Timothy McConnell was spotted and photographed at the scene; he’s wearing a ski mask but it was unmistakably him on site.
Protesters were on hand, but those were controlled by use of city police officers — including overwatch by NOPD snipers apparently willing to rain death down on those who would interfere.
The entire spectacle was too much even for the local media who had led cheers for much of this tawdry odyssey. “This is the wrong tactic, and it cannot help but deepen the wounds left by the lengthy battle about the fate of the monuments — a debate that resulted in a 6-1 City Council vote to take the monuments down,” read an editorial by the New Orleans Advocate. “Even a number of those who supported the removal of the statues are criticizing Monday’s clandestine take-down operation for its secrecy, and they should.”
And a little more: “Hiding reminders of the city’s deeply complicated past isn’t the way to let history teach its lessons. And hiding a big change to the city’s landscape by working in the dark isn’t the way to teach our children how democracy works.”
Landrieu seemingly doesn’t care, and stirrings by the state’s current Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser, whose job title includes management of the state’s culture and tourism efforts, and its Attorney General Jeff Landry, who it seems would like to begin a fresh round of litigation to tie the matter up in court but doesn’t believe he has the statutory means, have only emboldened him. Landrieu has gone so far as to make the indefensible case that rather than represent New Orleans’ history the monuments are a “denial” of it, because the Confederacy only lasted four years.
Interestingly enough, when the statue of Lee was erected in 1878 atop a pillar in the center of the circle bearing his name, those raising money for it didn’t have his service as a Confederate general in mind so much as his efforts following the war. Lee was seen at the time as a unifying figure, believe it or not, because rather than continue as a guerrilla commander he surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse for the good of the country, he denounced slavery and pronounced himself happy at its end and spent his final years as the president of then-Washington College (now Washington & Lee) devoted to producing Southern citizens who would help to bind the wounds of the nation.
There was a time when such men would be revered, and understood. This is a different time. This is a time of Mitch Landrieus, using demagoguery to destroy the cultural patrimony of an entire region and plunge it into ignorance of its own roots.
I suspect it isn’t just social-justice leftism driving Landrieu’s fanatical, dishonest, Shermanesque march through the Big Easy’s statuary landscape. I suspect it’s the rejection of his sister by those middle-class white voters in parts of Louisiana not named Orleans Parish. He had something he could use to inflict pain on them, and he used it. And he won’t be stopped now.