If 27-year-old David Vitter had only moved back to Metairie a few months before, it is likely Louisiana would have been spared the indignity of having David Duke as a state representative and, only two years later, as the Republican candidate for governor. In late 1988, even though he wanted to, Vitter could not qualify to run for state representative in District 81; he hadn’t lived there long enough. Ironically though, David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who actually lived two blocks outside of the district, quietly changed his address, qualified for the election, and, in a shock heard around the world, he won.
Fortunately, Duke fizzled out following his 1991 defeat for governor against Edwin Edwards, and today, Duke’s name is permanently toxic. Louisiana would rather not remember how close it came to electing an unabashed racist and avowed neo-Nazi as its governor.
The next year, David Vitter replaced David Duke as District 81’s state representative, the first of a string of electoral victories that would eventually bring him to the chambers of the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and, if he is victorious this fall, the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge.
Vitter and Duke can’t stand one another. Vitter is a lawyer and a Rhodes Scholar, fiercely ambitious, savvy (this year, he partnered up with Sen. Elizabeth Warren on legislation to reform the Fed), and undeniably relentless; he won his re-election campaign to the Senate by double digits, less than three years after his career seemed doomed following the revelation he was a client of the D.C. Madam. Duke, on the other hand, has never been known for his discipline or his intelligence. Instead, he drew people to him with the same brand of vaingloriousness and paranoiac nativism Donald Trump is now weaponizing in this year’s Republican presidential primary. (Unsurprisingly, David Duke has had a lot of nice things to say about Donald Trump, and Donald Trump seems to be a big hit with white supremacists).
While the good people of Louisiana House District 81 would probably dispute the characterization, the simple truth is: The same small, suburban district that legitimized David Duke, less than four years later, also launched the political career of David Vitter. The two men may not like one another personally, but they once both relied on the same constituency. That may not be noteworthy to some, but to me, it’s enormously important.
The point is this: David Vitter knows how to talk to white racists. He is fluent in dog whistling and coded language. If he weren’t, he’d likely be in private practice, and David Duke would have likely won another term in the legislature. (Who knows? Duke may have won several more terms. Vitter, after all, is responsible for implementing term-limits).
This will make some people uncomfortable, maybe even angry, but it’s impossible to ignore: David Vitter apparently believes that, in order to win, he must appeal, once again, to white racists, and sadly, he may be right.
There is no other way to explain Vitter’s sudden and strange outrage over New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to remove and relocate four public monuments honoring the Confederacy. Among actual New Orleans residents, Landrieu’s proposal enjoys widespread support. It easily won approval by the Human Relations Commission, the Vieux Carre Commission, and the Historic District Landmarks Commission, and it will almost certainly be unanimously approved by the New Orleans City Council (though they should probably consider revising and not removing the monument to P.G.T. Beauregard).
Outside of New Orleans, however, Mayor Landrieu’s proposal is seen as yet another sign of the destructive force of political correctness. This, of course, is code language, but David Vitter likely knows that opposition to the removal of Confederate memorials resonates outside of Orleans Parish, particularly in parts of the state where almost everyone is white and registered to vote. And he also likely knows that if he is going to win, voters need to have something other than his dalliances with prostitutes to remember him by.
We pretend as if these monuments represent something irreplaceable and historic and immensely valuable when, in fact, they continue to serve the same function they did on the day they were dedicated: They communicate oppression, white supremacy, and a glorification of bigotry and treason. These are not ancient monuments, and they do not honor or pay tribute to anything worthy of public commendation. They’re not particularly striking or architecturally significant. They are only historic in the sense that they are old, which, in America, means anything older than fifty. If those who champion their inherent value to culture and history really were honest, then they would have called for these monuments to be moved into a museum years ago.
This has nothing to do with history. This is about publicly glorifying oppression, about perpetuating and reinforcing a white hegemonic narrative, about the failures of white people in Louisiana to come to terms with the inheritance of slavery, and it’s about stubbornly refusing to truly acknowledge the dignity and the civil rights of an entire race of American citizens.
David Vitter would have the people of Louisiana believe that any proposal to remove these tributes to white supremacy somehow distracts Mitch Landrieu from tackling the issue of violent crime. For a man who spent more than a decade living a double-life, it’s pretty astonishing he would ever have the audacity to suggest politicians can’t be multi-taskers.
Landrieu, it’s worth noting, has been praised nationally for his work on crime prevention, and while the murder rate is up significantly so far this year, New Orleans’s spike still pales in comparison to other cities. It’s twice as high in Washington, D.C. and nearly four times as high in Milwaukee. And while murders have increased this year in New Orleans, shootings are actually down. Last year. shootings were up, and murders were down. Crime prevention is more of an art than a science.
Regardless, David Vitter needs something to remind his white conservative base that, despite his transgressions, he is still their candidate. So, for the last several weeks, he has been tying Mitch Landrieu’s proposal to remove Confederate memorials with violent crime. He recently took out this radio ad:
Amazingly, David Vitter couches a defense of white supremacy as a plea for crime prevention. And the solution he offers for New Orleans involves militarizing the state police and relocating them into the inner-city, which is really less of a solution for those actually affected by crime and more of an appeal, once again, to suburban white people who are afraid of encountering crime.
Community policing? I suppose that’s for liberals. If you vote for David Vitter, we’ll hire a whole new branch of state police to patrol our neighborhoods.
After about a month of David Vitter’s racist drivel, Mayor Landrieu finally called him out, reminding David Vitter and the rest of Louisiana that the Senator sounded an awful lot like his predecessor from District 81, David Ernest Duke. Quoting:
Yesterday, a panel of New Orleans residents on the Vieux Carré Commission took a big step towards removing the Liberty Place monument.
However, at the same time, Senator David Vitter and David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klansman, doubled down on their efforts to keep this monument, fighting to preserve the last vestiges of white supremacy rather than honoring the great diversity that defines us today.
Tell David Vitter and David Duke that this monument has no place in New Orleans.
The history of the Battle of Liberty Place monument goes back to 1874, when a group of radical ex-Confederates launched a coup against the racially-integrated Reconstruction government of Louisiana, forming a militia and storming New Orleans. The mob attacked a force made up of the integrated Metropolitan Police force and state militia and killed police officers and innocent bystanders.
In 1886, private groups erected this monument to honor the members of the White League that were killed in the Battle of Liberty Place — not the police officers or the innocent bystanders.
Why David Vitter and David Duke are defending this monument is beyond me.
Our state has always been a place that honors the lives of law enforcement officers lost in the line of duty. But this monument stands in direct contrast to those ideals.
The ideals represented in this monument never belonged in a city as great as New Orleans, where diversity is our lifeblood. It’s time we chart a future of togetherness, not division.
Sign on now to add your support in removing this monument erected in honor of those who killed police officers.
We have to make our voices heard over the noise of opponents like David Vitter and David Duke.
Let’s start by removing the Liberty Place monument.
That had to sting, and if David Vitter doesn’t want to be mentioned in the same sentence as David Duke, perhaps he should consider consulting more frequently with the former Grand Wizard in order to ensure they don’t send out nearly identical messages to the press. It’s easy to see why folks could get confused.
Mayor Landrieu is right: There is only one other prominent former elected official who has been as apoplectic about the removal of the Confederate monuments as David Vitter has been; his name is David Duke, and if Vitter can’t handle hearing that, he probably should have invested in something other than a radio ad defending white supremacy while calling for the hyper-militarization of inner-city neighborhoods, something only a fascist would do.
Senator David Vitter responded to Mayor Landrieu’s letter online. He posted it as a guest column on a strange and largely disreputable website that markets to its readers sales offers for phony steroids, gold investments, and all sorts of absurd businesses and whose owner has been publicly accused of ripping off subscribers to his former site on college sports.
I imagine the privilege of having a guest column published by The Hayride must have thrilled Sen. Vitter. They didn’t spare any expense. They designed a header on Photoshop. They patched a few things together, and voila! The artwork for Sen. Vitter’s column would be Mitch Landrieu as the leader of a Muslim terrorist group (presumably for wanting to take down the Confederate monuments).
The substance of Vitters’s letter doesn’t matter too much, because he’s never had much of a point. But they honored him with some racist and offensive artwork lampooning Mitch Landrieu and Muslims and, ever so kindly, they gave him a byline.
Last time around, Vitter was able to run against President Obama, even though he wasn’t on the ballot, and this year, Vitter wants to run against Mitch Landrieu, also not on the ballot. But Obama is a black man not very well-liked by 70% of white Republicans, and unsurprisingly, because the Confederate memorials are statues of dead white men, the only people who truly care about them are misinformed, fearful, pollyannish, or blatantly racist white people- oh, and a small group of professional historians, sociologists, and other academics who want these things in a museum.
I doubt Vitter cares where the monuments physically go, as long as they remain in his talking points. The easiest way to lose an election for Governor in Louisiana is by actively empathizing with African-Americans.
Vitter’s cynical radio ad and his letter to Mayor Landrieu should remind all of us: David Duke was his seat warmer.