What’s in a name?
The next election:
There is a better way
Big Sports is in a big snit over the mascot and name
for Washington, D.C.’s professional football franchise,
currently known as the Redskins – a moniker that is occa-
sionally under fire as a slur on the American Indian.
At some point, a new name and mascot will be decided.
The Redskins will be out. Big Sports won’t rest until
it happens. At this point, the team logo and anything it
decorates – from shirts, caps and scarves to coats, coffee
mugs and more – become artifacts, items of increasing
value because they are things of the past, now enrolled
into the collectors’ markets. Today, out of production;
tomorrow, Antiques Roadshow.
Next comes a limitless expanse of new team titles and
mascots with opportunities beyond the customary, the
time-worn, the traditional.
The sea, for example, offers far more than Dolphin, the
skies have room for more than eagle, seahawk and falcon,
the mountains and prairie give us other than buffalo and
bison, cowboy and bronco; jungles harbor more than jag-
uar, the Bengal tiger, the lion.
Man himself, especially the working variety, is more
than packer, steeler, buccaneer and raider, and his heritage
dates further than the Viking. These days, what is our life
without the techie, the nerd, the hacker. The Washington
Hackers! Rather not, though; the authorities would take
offense that in our nation’s capital, the team would cel-
ebrate the skills of, say, a middle-schooler who ties the
TSA in knots by de-coding locks to the Pentagon men’s
room. Hackers are out. Nerds? You want to cheer on a
6-foot, eight-inch, 350-pound nerd?
Consider the sea: The Shellfish has a crisp snap to it.
The Washington Shellfish, somehow, has no zip. Lobster?
Sea Urchins? We have Seagulls – rather, Seahawks, a
phony species, like the coach – why not Sea Turtles?
But Washington Sea Turtles comes in about as flat as the
Washington Seals. Or Sea Lions.
Reptiles! Here are species perfect for Washington, espe-
cially Capitol Hill. The Washington Vipers, Washington
Rattlers, Cobras or Constrictors, all conjure images far
too accurate for the town’s political culture.
If we’re going political with the Congress in mind, how
about the Washington Slugs, or Sloths? The Washington
Boars, ripe for a misspelling, nevertheless lack punch.
Bird life offers only a few appropriate names. The
Washington Sparrows or Washington Chicken Hawks?
Bland. Chickens, though, have possibilities. But the
Washington Chickens present a sordid temptation to
hyphenate and, thus, a likely path to the vulgar.
Let’s try meteorology.
The Washington Cyclones. Wow, but given the team’s
colors, and Iowa State’s long-held claim, lawyers would
surely be involved. Tornado (No). The Washington Flood
is too realistic. So, too, the Washington Drought. The
Washington Blizzard, though, has possibilities, although
it conjures the image of a soda fountain. Or, in that town,
a truckload of cocaine.
Botany and plant life have a store of potential. Consider
trees. The Washington Willows; nope, too limp. But the
Washington Crab Apples might have a special force
beyond the Beltway. Native or non-native grasses and
plants suggest the Washington Bermuda, Washington
Rye, Washington Bent. The Washington Bluegrass would
only rankle Kentucky, and Sen. Rand Paul wouldn’t stand
for it. How ‘bout the D.C. Dandelions? Or, the Capitol
Medicine, or anatomy, or certain maladies, are to
be considered. What of our skeleton? The Washington
Bones. No – again, tempting the inappropriate. The
Skulls has a fearsome tinge. So, too, Migraine. (Again,
too political.) The Washington Bacteria packs a kind of
accuracy, but the metaphor is vivid to a fault.
Back to plant life. The Washington Weeds has a bit of
staying power, but ultimately D.C. is a place of sturdy
politics and untenable culture. Its professional football
franchise, at some future date, needs durability. We say
the team should be known as The Beltway Bindweed. It’s
inclusive, catching and durable.
We now bring you another election. The state contests
that wrapped up on Tuesday were a precede, known to the
national media as mid-term elections because they fall in
the middle of a presidential term in office.
And for the next two years we will suffer all the babble
and baloney that leech from the suffocating process of
selecting our nation’s next president.
It used to be fun, even interesting. It is now overloaded:
Too many pundits, too many forecasts, too much specu-
lation, too much data, too many polls and surveys. Too
The result of all this discussing and forecasting and
wheedling is that we will nominate candidates who won’t
necessarily make good presidents. We will have nominees
who look good on television, who can stand up best dur-
ing a constant jet whirl, mediocre meals and the attacks
of media sharks. They must also suffer the scrutiny of
countless bleaters who swim the murky cyberscapes of
the InterWeb. This election, like the last, will be a test for
bladders, ulcers, incipient phlebitis and brain cells. It will
not be a quality test for the White House.
And it’s a bum way to pick a president.
For this we can thank the reforms of 40 years ago,
when the McGovern crowd sought to do good, and didn’t.
Reform, by which the peepul picked their own candi-
dates, was seen as a stout blow for democracy. We took
candidate selection away from the party bosses chomp-
ing cigars in smoke-filled rooms, and replaced it with a
bewildering, interconnected system of state and regional
primaries. The new emphasis was on Super Tuesdays and
super delegates, a process that has failed glaringly to pro-
duce the best candidates and has become less democratic,
not more. (The result of every primary since 1972 is that
fewer people went to the polls, not more, and even in the
best years, only a minority bothered to vote. That’s hardly
an improvement over letting the professionals pick the
A generation ago, the party regulars who worked the
streets, distributed the literature and raised the money
had a chance for that trip to Miami or Chicago with the
heady experience of being involved in the national game
for the biggest stakes. They are not eager, even willing,
to do all that groundwork only to be shoved aside while
the part-timers in political life get elected as delegates.
Presidential picking has become too unpredictable to give
anyone satisfaction in party chores. The workers who
provided the backbone of the party system, the pols, have
mostly checked out. The parties themselves are mostly a
Today there are no names, fewer faces. We have only
candidates of the moment, rather than statesmen for an
The smoke-filled room is how, in presidential cam-
paigns, we had candidates like Robert Taft, Wilkie,
Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Kennedy. (We also had
Harding, Coolidge, Hoover. No system is perfect.)
There is little evidence that the reforms pushed through
in both parties in the 1970s and 80s, or the bee swarms
of super primaries beginning in the 90s, have helped the
republic, the political parties, or the voters.
They have made the presidency an endurance contest.
They have produced “position papers” which put voters
to sleep. They have brought Madison Avenue techniques
and Washington gut-punching to the presidency. They
have replaced thoughtful analysis with tweets and impor-
tant speeches with U-Tube moments. The “democracy”
of the Internet has placed mountebanks and poseurs on
an equal plane with credible and thoughtful public ser-
vants, a fraud on the electorate. Sarah Palin and Michelle
Bachman in a league with, say, Elizabeth Warren or Susan
The presidential selection process is now beyond our
reach. And that 18th century relic, the Electoral College,
has consigned Kansas and its withering population to
insignificance. There is a better way, and we know it.
Why put up with it?
– JOHN MARSHALL