Alliteration and brevity are the soul of a good political slogan, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter apparently thinks he’s latched on to one to fit that bill.
Since the days of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” or “Fifty-four forty or fight,” we’ve been suckers for slogans that are pithy and feature consonance, which, you’ll remember from your high school English class, is the repetition of consonant sounds.
The greatest political slogan of them all may have been “I like Ike.” It featured both consonance and assonance, a form of alliteration that repeats vowel sounds. It rhymed and it was short and happy, reflecting post-World War II American affability.
We had just saved the world (again, in our view) and were finally seeing the stability and prosperity that had eluded us since the beginning of the Great Depression. And who better to lead us into this new “Father Knows Best” future than grandfatherly Dwight Eisenhower?
And now comes Vitter, who says he’s “Focusing on murders not monuments.” That slogan may not be as upbeat as liking Ike, but it does have the advantage of neatly wrapping two of the hottest issues in New Orleans, crime and Confederate monuments, into one package.
A battle of competing put-downs has emerged between Vitter, who has been running for governor for a long time, and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who’s said he isn’t.
Vitter used the “murder, not monuments” line as early as Aug. 12, when he wrote to the mayor about the crime problem in New Orleans. He ended it with what seemed like a non sequitur. Though he had not mentioned anything about the Confederate statues in his letter, he closed by saying, “For goodness sake, focus on murders, not monuments.” But, non sequitur or not, everyone knew what he was getting at.
You don’t hear people saying the city should stop repairing streets, or forget about the firefighters’ back pay, or not try to fix the ancient water-treatment system because those tasks would detract attention from the fight on crime. Yet some see an easy connection between the monuments controversy and blood-drenched streets, as if they think Landrieu can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.
Last week, Landrieu fired a return volley. He wrote that the Liberty Place monument, one of the four that he wants removed as public nuisances, commemorates an 1874 battle when “a group of radical ex-Confederates launched a coup against the racially integrated Reconstruction government of Louisiana. ...
“The mob attacked a force made up of the integrated Metropolitan Police force and state militia and killed police officers and innocent bystanders.”
Landrieu noted that the monument was erected to honor only the members of the White League who were killed in the battle, not the police officers or the bystanders.
“Why David Vitter and David Duke are defending this monument is beyond me,” he wrote.
Firing back on Friday, Vitter bristled at the implied connection with the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
In a letter to Landrieu, he asked: “Really, Mitch?”
How this will shake out in the campaign is hard to say. We are in the middle of candidate qualifying, so we don’t know if any surprise contenders will scramble the race.
But it probably doesn’t hurt for Vitter to pit himself against a name that Louisiana voters are already quite familiar with, having rejected U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s re-election just months ago.
And while all three Republican candidates for governor don’t want to see the Confederate monuments removed, Vitter may hope that his tussle with the mayor will elevate his visibility on the issue.
Dennis Persica can be reached at email@example.com.