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All things Confederate-ish must go

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- If something is worth doing in America, it's worth overdoing.

ESPN proved this eternal truth anew this week when it announced that, in response to the violence in Charlottesville, it was removing announcer Robert Lee from broadcasting the University of Virginia football game -- because he has the same name as the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee. ESPN's Lee is Asian-American.

Similar caution just led the University of Houston to change the name of its Calhoun Lofts dorm because it shares a name with the 19th-century vice president and white supremacist John C. Calhoun, even though, a university spokeswoman told the Houston Chronicle, "the residence hall was not named in recognition of John C. Calhoun" but a nearby street.

In Atlanta, likewise, protesters last week attempted to tear down that city's Peace Monument, apparently mistaking it for a Confederate shrine. The sculpture was erected to honor those who worked for reunification during Reconstruction.

The movement to remove Confederate monuments can be a healthy one, if done legally, according to the wishes of local citizens and in such a way that preserves this history without glorifying it. But from across this great land come reminders that nothing in America succeeds like excess.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 90-day review of any statues on city property that could be "symbols of hate." New Yorkers are now taking aim at the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle and the tomb of Ulysses S. Grant.

Some object to the Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the Museum of Natural History, and others suggest the name "New York" itself may have to go because the Duke of York was a slave trader. New York chef Tom Colicchio dropped the name of his new restaurant because it was named after a building that was named after 19th-century publishers who had racist views.

There's a movement in Massachusetts to rename Boston's Faneuil Hall, cradle of the Revolution, because the 1742 structure was built by a slave trader and owner, Peter Faneuil.

Some may see this as a pell-mell rush to replicate George Orwell's "1984," in which "every statue and street and building has been renamed." But I don't think it goes far enough.

If we are to purge ourselves of Robert E. Lee (and ESPN's Robert Lee) we must avoid confusion by renaming or replacing all things with names similar to the Confederate general's: Bruce Lee, Tommy Lee, Spike Lee, Harper Lee, Bobby Lee, Lee jeans, Lee Majors and Lee Iacocca.

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