Saturday, May 24, 2008

Name Combat Redux

I previously blogged my predictions for the Marion County judges' primary based on my "name combat" philosophy, which I argue occurs in down ticket races. Well, Jeff Greenfield argues the phenomenon goes all the way to the top of the ballot.

Greenfield points out that our presidents have been 43 guys with pretty Scott-Irish, Dutch, or German sounding and relatively simple names - Washington, Madison, Grant, Adams, Johnson, Kennedy, Bush - and only one has had four syllables - Eisenhower. But as Greenfield notes, everybody called him Ike, and when you have five stars and win a war, you can probably call yourself "Schlitz Malt Liquor" and still get elected. On the loserville side, you have names like Mondale, Dukakis, Dewey, and Hubert Horatio Humphrey.

Greenfield argues that names provides an opportunity for opponents to cast the candidate as "not one of us," which is why having BOTH Barack AND Hussein has been politically hurtful. Greenfield comically suggests an apostrophe might help "O'Bama" lock up the Irish vote.


1 comment:

John M said...

Eh. As Greenfield notes, most of the presidential losers had names of Scotch-Irish, Dutch, and German decent (and English, oddly unmentioned considering that most of our early presidents were full-blooded Englishmen). Greenfield mentions Dutch, but it seems to me that if two legendary presidents hadn't answered to it, "Roosevelt" would be considered a very funny name.

It seems pretty simple. Most of our presidents have had such names because for most of our history, white protestants have been the only viable candidates for the presidency. Michael Dukakis has a funny name, but he was running against the incumbent VP of a very popular president.

I don't doubt that Obama's name could be a disadvantage. It's sort of interesting that our first viable black presidential candidate has the twin difficulties of his skin color and a funny name: most of the surnames of successful black politicians and leaders: Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, Colin Powell, Tom Bradley, Douglas Wilder are about as "American" as they come.