Such words as Nazi and Marxist are widely used these days by people who have no idea what they mean; they have become general terms of opprobrium.

Still, for an American politician to be called both is a signal achievement.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu pulled it off just by ordering Confederate monuments removed from the streets.

Whether the dual insult could ever make sense is hard to say. While Adolf Hitler was avowedly anti-Marxist, he is said to have privately acknowledged a debt to the Bolsheviks, so, if National Socialism and Communism are not synonymous, they may not be mutually exclusive.

Not that it matters in this context. The charge, in a letter to the editor, that Landrieu is spreading “social Marxism” will have students of Das Kapital scratching their heads. Attaching any meaning to it is impossible. It was inevitable that Karl Marx, with his views on the exploitation of labor, would come out against the slave-drivers in the American Civil War, but his theories of political economy can hardly account for Landrieu's crusade against Confederate statuary.

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Calling Landrieu a Nazi is just as nonsensical. A Mississippi legislator did so last Saturday and also recommended that he be lynched — all in a Facebook post, which, it would be charitable to assume, was not the result of sober reflection. State Rep. Karl Oliver offered no explanation for his rush of blood when he issued the most groveling of apologies two days later.

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He was certainly confused when he sat down at his computer to convey his disapproval thus: “If the, and I use this term loosely, ‘leadership’ of Louisiana wishes to, in a Nazi-ish fashion, burn books or destroy historical monuments of OUR HISTORY, they should be LYNCHED.” He would have been better advised to lie down for a spell with a cold cloth on his forehead. His thinking was as mangled as his syntax.

The nuttiest suggestion in his post is that Landrieu is a book burner. You can be sure that, if he were consigning volumes to the flames, there'd be a big picture on page one of the paper. He would have committed an egregious offense against the historical record and intellectual honesty.

That, of course, is what Oliver and other overwrought apologists for the Confederacy believe Landrieu is guilty of anyway. But nobody in his right mind could compare Landrieu to the Nazis who burned the works of Jewish writers, including Karl Marx. The Nazis brought Kristalnacht; Landrieu exercised his legal right, after all due process had been observed, to remove the icons of a mythical Old South that were a constant affront to the descendants of slaves. To suggest an equivalence is as indecent as it is inflammatory.

And inflammatory Oliver's Facebook post certainly was. If the First Amendment does not permit the shouting of “fire” in a crowded theater, it certainly does not allow a call to assassinate a public official. Oliver's post can easily be construed as an illegal incitement, but it is unlikely that Mississippi prosecutors will be keen to haul one of their legislators into court.

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That Oliver should even use the word lynch is astonishing, since he represents the town where the brutal murder of 15-year-old Emmet Till in 1955 gave fresh impetus to the Civil Rights movement. Mississippi will never shake of its reputation as a haven for racist rednecks so long as Oliver remains in its legislature.

Meanwhile, New Orleans waits to see if Landrieu will round up stray Confederates still on the streets. The bust of General Albert Pike, just a few blocks from where the statue of Jefferson Davis until recently stood, is an obvious candidate. Whether the retrospective cleansing will stretch further back and ensnare Andrew Jackson remains an open question.

Regardless, more unkind words will no doubt be directed at Landrieu, and far be it from any newspaper columnist to disparage the use of hyperbole. But if we are going to use our worst insults on him, what words will be left to us when a real Marxist and/or Nazi shows up?

Email James Gill at jgill@theadvocate.com.

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