02 September 2015
The peak of absurdity
The interesting thing about the dispute over Mt. Denali (or is it just "Denali?") in Alaska is how solicitous some people have become toward the memory of William McKinley. The mountain, long known by natives by some variant of "Denali," was first associated with the U.S. President before he took office. According to Wikipedia, a gold prospector hopefully renamed the mountain in 1896 after the then-candidate and champion of the gold standard. It was formally named Mt. McKinley is a spirit of reverence toward the since-martyred President in 1917. Tastes change, of course, and starting in the 1970s Alaskans sought to restore the mountain's original (or aboriginal) name. The recent move by the President authorizing an official restoration of the Denali name reportedly has bipartisan support in Alaska, and while our most famous Alaskan hasn't yet been heard from to my knowledge, Governor Palin referred to the mountain as Denali during her time in office. Meanwhile, there has been bipartisan outrage in Ohio, the onetime "Mother of Presidents" and McKinley's home. Ohio lately has been a pivotal state in presidential elections and neither major party, presumably, wants to miss any opportunity for advantage. Each, then, will rise up to protest this perceived slur on their state and their hero, and they have a friend in Donald Trump, who has tweeted a promise to restore the McKinley name if elected President. I'm really surprised that so many people care about a President whose most positive achievement, arguably, was to stay in a Buffalo receiving line long enough for Leon Czolgosz to clear the way for Teddy Roosevelt. McKinley was a protectionist whose signature tariff legislation raised rates but reportedly resulted in reduced revenues for the government. We're stuck with Puerto Rico and Guantanamo Bay because of the Spanish-American War McKinley waged (admittedly much goaded by TR). Some Republicans may yet think of the McKinley administration as a golden age, but today's provocateurs seem more concerned about the hurt feelings of Ohio than the neglected memory of the man. All this chivalry toward Ohio is opportunistic, of course, but it's also euphemistic; it's a way to denounce the President for "political correctness" in his apparent favoring of Native heritage over national history without having to say the words. Maybe the fact that Alaskan Republicans favor "Denali" makes the usual railing against political correctness politically incorrect this time -- and maybe, just maybe, this is an early hint that the rhetoric of "political correctness" is growing tired, or at least less appealing to Republicans tired of Trump taking the issue from them. As for the mountain, since it's part of a national park I suppose we're all entitled to a voice in the naming. Why not make a popularity vote of it like the recent contests for new faces on the $10 or $20 bill. Actually, let's get some revenue out of this. If people care enough to have an opinion, let them pay to vote, while the rest of us who don't really care one way or another get some benefit out of it. Let then nominate any name they want, while we're at it, and then we'll really see democracy at work.