‘It’s like he took a knee to Putin’: Mitch Landrieu on Helsinki, race, Democrats’ identity crisis
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“It’s like he took a knee to Putin.”
“He” is President Trump. The person who made this blunt comment about Trump’s disgraceful press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16 was Mitch Landrieu. “It really is a national embarrassment,” said the recently departed two-term mayor of New Orleans. “Russia’s attempt to completely destabilize our democracy is an attack on the country, and I think the president’s response is unbelievably weak.”
Ever since Landrieu delivered an equally blunt speech on race and the removal of Confederate statues and monuments from his city, folks see him as a no-nonsense leader who should run to replace Trump. “It really is humbling for people to think that I could do that,” said Landrieu during a live-event recording of the latest episode of “Cape Up” at the “Opportunity 2020” conference, organized by the center-left think tank Third Way. “I’m not planning on running right now. I’m not saying that I’m [not] running and trying to run. I’m not doing that. I hear it, but what I attribute that to is the public being really thirsty for change.”
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But Landrieu cautioned Democrats about obsessing over the 2020 presidential election to the neglect of the 2018 midterm elections this November. “We do spend a lot of time worrying about 2020 really, really early,” he said. “I would ask people to quit doing that, not as an evasion, but 2018 is the most important thing.
“It should be abundantly clear to Americans that if the leadership of Congress — who happens to be Republicans, but, by the way, they represent all of us — that if they are not going to step up to the plate and limit the damage that President Trump can do to us on the international stage, then we ought to replace them,” Landrieu said about the American electorate. “And you know what? If we give it to the Democrats and they don’t do it, they ought to throw us out, too.”
I’m not one of those who thinks that what’s happening in the Democratic Party is an identity crisis. Democrats know what their goals are, and they are united in a drive to move forward to help as many people as possible achieve their version of the American dream. They just disagree on how to get there. Even though he’s not running to lead the party, Landrieu has clear ideas on which path he believes Dems should take.
“If you can’t win an election, you can’t govern,” said Landrieu to applause. “We shouldn’t make the same mistake that the Republican Party’s making right now — although they’re winning — of being a small-tent, exclusive party.” When I asked him how Democrats should do battle with Trump, who uses his Twitter feed to electronically strafe anyone who dares criticize him, Landrieu thought it best to not overreact to the tweets. “The thing that you don’t do is to have an equal and opposite reaction,” he told me. “We’re not going to beat them by being like them.”
Former New Orleans Mitch Landrieu (right) and The Post’s Jonathan Capehart during a live interview for the “Cape Up” podcast at the Third Way “Opportunity 2020” conference in Columbus, Ohio, July 20. (Adam Schultz/Third Way)
Landrieu’s views on the Democratic Party came into sharper focus the more he talked about how Dems should deal with the president.
I wouldn’t concede the issues of faith, family or country to the National Republican Party. Americans who are Democrats and independents are every bit as faithful and as patriotic and work [as] hard as everybody else. …One of the challenges, I think, that we have is Democrats are in our DNA committed to making sure that civil liberties and civil rights of people are protected, which sometimes says that we’re fighting culture wars more than we should. The bread and butter issues really do matter.The people of America want to feel safe. And I think security is a big issue, but in a thoughtful, right way, not in a way when you kneecap your friends and hug your enemies.
And Landrieu thinks it’s “a big mistake” for Democratic candidates to run a base election. “What you have to do, then,” he said, “is to work really hard to find common ground and push the issue about how everybody, irrespective of race, creed, color, national origin, is going to have an equal opportunity and share responsibility.” He also said that demands for policy purity are problematic. “Consensus, in terms of winning, is better, and consensus in terms of governing is always better,” Landrieu advised.
But listen to the podcast to hear Landrieu talk about his book “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History.” It’s a memoir where the former Big Easy mayor and former lieutenant governor of Louisiana describes his journey from ignorance to clear understanding of the importance of the three statues and one monument he ultimately removed. And in his reflections, Landrieu delves into race like no other white Southerner has since former president Bill Clinton.
“The way that most white people have a discussion about race is, well, we had the Revolution, then we had the Civil War, and then we had the civil rights movement. Okay, that’s good. We’re done with that because we elected a black president,” Landrieu explained. “On race, what I’ve learned over time, since the time that I was born until today, is that you can’t go around it; you can’t go over it; you can’t go under it. You actually have to go through it and talk through it so there can be some reconciliation. And we really haven’t had that.”
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