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Workers take down the Confederate Robert E. Lee statue, erected in 1884 by ex-Confederates and white Southerners, in New Orleans, La. Friday, May 19, 2017. The New Orleans City Council voted to remove the statue 16 months ago in Dec. 2015 and three other monuments that have already been removed including a statue of Confederate Jefferson Davis, Confederate P.G.T. Beauregard, and the white supremacist Battle of Liberty Place White League monument. The Lee statue was first unveiled during the Jim Crow racial segregation era with Davis and Beauregard in attendance, and also two daughters of General Lee. The monument was placed in what once was Tivoli Circle or Place du Tivoli. New Orleans only spent 15 months in the Confederacy and spent the majority of the Civil War under Union control when the city was captured in 1862 with zero casualties and Tivoli Circle was used as a camp for Union soldiers during the war.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

If you were wondering what drove New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu to deeply divide New Orleans by tearing down Confederate monuments, the title of his new book says it all: “In The Shadow Of Statues, A White Southerner Confronts History." 

Landrieu’s book, due out March 20, should win an award for the most pretentious title in history. It implies Landrieu, as a Southern white man, bucked the status quo by taking a brave stand against racism. But that’s not what happened. Taking a position endearing you to your political base and the media is far from courageous. To view Landrieu as courageous, you’d also have to assume racism is mainstream. It is not. You’d also have to believe those who wanted to preserve the monuments were racist. Most were not.

Landrieu’s tearing down of the monuments was a brilliant and advantageous move for a man with national political ambitions. Deeply dividing New Orleans and manufacturing a crisis that didn’t previously exist was a price the mayor was willing to pay if it meant a brighter national spotlight. His plan has worked perfectly.

When Landrieu, with the approval of the City Council, first began to stir up racial tensions by tearing down the monuments, media types fell all over themselves praising him. They especially loved his well-timed Gallier Hall speech shortly after the final monument fell. Now Landrieu will build on that momentum and travel the country promoting his book and explain to fawning media figures how he’s so courageous for being a rare, non-racist, white Southerner.

Landrieu’s book title should read, “A race-baiting politician selfishly divides New Orleans to advance his national political ambitions.”

If Landrieu genuinely thought it was best for the city and not just his national political ambitions to remove the monuments, he would have allowed the people of New Orleans to vote on the issue. He should have put in the hard work of persuading people of his case for removing the monuments instead of just having the iconic statues hauled off by crane. But if New Orleans voters had not seen it the mayor’s way, then he wouldn’t receive the accolades he has.

Landrieu’s justification for tearing down the monuments is they honored men who ended up on the wrong side of history. And he’s right about that. When it came to the main issue of their day, slavery, Davis, Beauregard and Lee fought for the wrong side.

Most can’t begin to understand how so many Americans of antiquity — and, in some cases, our family ancestors — could have been so wrong about slavery. How could their hearts become so hard that they were deceived into believing an entire race was less than human? It’s heartbreaking that our great nation has such a dark stain on her history.

But the conviction that all men are created equal and all life is precious eventually took hold of America's conscience, even to the point that hundreds of thousands were willing to fight and die to end slavery.

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Unfortunately, many Americans still today foolishly believe some of us are less than human and their lives don’t matter. History will not remember well those who support the right of abortionists to end the lives of unborn children. A mother’s womb should be the safest place on earth for a baby, and yet it has become a very dangerous place during our time. Hundreds of thousands of babies are killed at the hands of an abortionist each year in America. In Louisiana alone, close to 8,000 babies are denied the right and privilege of enjoying this wonderful gift called life.

Slavery should serve as a reminder to all of us that just because something is legal and accepted, it doesn’t make it moral, ethical or right.

The orthodoxy of the Democratic Party, Landrieu's political home, is on the wrong side of the abortion issue. I wonder if 100 years from now, some politically ambitious politician will try to remove anything honoring Landrieu’s legacy because he belonged to a party that championed abortion much like the Confederacy championed slavery.

Email Dan Fagan at faganshow@gmail.com.