New Orleans mayor delivered the reality check America needs: Gary Mason

Mason on Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, and his political courage in arguing for and  taking down Confederate statues:

While far from a household name in the United States, I remember thinking at the time Mr. Landrieu was someone whose political horizon could one day stretch all the way to Washington – although he poo-pooed having any grander ambitions than the job he had.

Recently, however, the New Orleans’s mayor may have unwittingly (or wittingly) launched the journey that could one day take him to the White House. In a stunningly eloquent speech defending the city’s decision to remove four statues honouring Confederate generals and soldiers, Mr. Landrieu reminded Americans why words continue to matter.

It was the kind of soaring oratory that became the foundation of Barack Obama’s historic rise to power. And against the backdrop of the current administration, and the monosyllabic shallowness of President Donald Trump, it stood out even more.

In one memorable line, Mr. Landrieu undermined the notion that statues such as the one glorifying the racist Civil War general Robert E. Lee were necessary to recognize the country’s history. Said Mr. Landrieu: “There are no slave-ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks. …”

He went on: “These statues are not just stone and metal. They are not just innocent remembrances of benign history. These monuments purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy; ignoring the death, ignoring enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for.”

Taking these statues down was not an easy thing to do in a southern city such as New Orleans, where racism remains entrenched. Many residents thought the mayor needed to be worrying more about murder and less about monuments. But he felt it was time the South confronted a deeply painful issue. He thought about what a black mother would tell a young daughter who asked about the metal sculptures and what these men had done to be exalted in this manner.

“Can you look into that young girl’s eyes and convince her that Robert E. Lee is there to encourage her?” he said in his speech. “Do you think she will feel inspired and hopeful by that story?”

It was brilliant.

In the last month, Mr. Landrieu was mentioned in The New York Times as a possible contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for 2020 – along with the names of many others. But even if this speech doesn’t take him any further than the mayor’s office, it was important.

It was important because it was an exemplary example of a politician taking on a tough issue, knowing the solution will create upset and anguish. But also, elegantly explaining the rationale behind his decision.

Source: New Orleans mayor delivered the reality check America needs – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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