Saturday, December 17, 2011

Not Tom, Dick or Harry

For a while it looked like Michelle had a real chance. Then it was Rick's turn until he imploded. John hasn't been able to break through, nor the other Rick. And Ron has his core of supporters, but can't seem to go beyond that. But until he bowed out it looked like Herman had a real chance. Despite his perceived shortcomings, Mitt is still a strong possibility. And after being left for dead earlier in the year, Newt has defied all pundits and currently holds a commanding lead at the front.

Notice anything about the leaders in this year's crop of contenders jockeying to challenge the president? Yes, they are all conservatives. Yes, they all are for a strong defense. Yes, they all believe taxes are too high, regulation too widespread and government too big. But look at their names: each has a moniker that doesn't come close to breaking into the top one hundred or even one thousand of the most popular names for kids today. They aren't your usual Tom, Dick or Harry... literally.

All this in an arena where name recognition is the very currency of the realm. On that basis, you would think a John (baby name rank: 26), a Michelle (125), two Richards known as Rick (127) or even a Ronald known as Ron (342) would resonate with the public. Those are names we trust, names we are comfortable with, so much so that we give them to our kids.  But perhaps that is part of the problem: they are so common that they don't stand out. In fact, out of a pool of about 55 million registered Republicans, two of those running for the highest office in the land go by the same nickname, even if one is actually a Richard John and the other James Richard. Perhaps Rick Santorum would be better off if he went with his childhood nickname of Rooster.

In that light, you can also posit that's why Herman (1868) did so well at first, why Mitt (13,906) has never disappeared below the fenceline and why Newt (11,676) is making such a strong move. Forget policies and ideology: considering the sample of just 43 individuals in 235 years, our choices for leaders has been heavily weighted towards the unusual. While it's true we have had three Georges and six James's, we've also had a Millard, a Woodrow, a Chester, a Rutherford, a Grover, a Lyndon and a Ulysses. And this year's contest will pit whoever is chosen against a guy named Barack, a name so unusual in the American experience that despite that fact that his very existence is a role model for many, its ranking on the baby name charts only went as high as 8503.

Perhaps the ultimate name for a presidential candidate would be one that stood out all by itself with no qualifier necessary. Then there would be little confusion with your ex-boyfriend, or that annoying college roommate who drank all the beer in your mini-fridge. Recognition would be immediate, and there would be plenty of room left over on campaign buttons and bumper stickers for slogans. Using that line of reasoning, it's surprising that the party elders haven't started a movement to draft Cher, Madonna or Bono.

Of course, it's absurd to think that voters will select a candidate on the basis of a name. Or is it? This was the year that introduced the binary question on pop culture as some kind of litmus test for voters to use in determining fitness for the presidency. In one debate we found out that Rick Santorum preferred Jay Leno over Conan O'Brien, Tim Pawlenty preferred Coke to Pepsi and Ron Paul preferred BlackBerries to iPhones. What should one read into the fact that Newt picked "American Idol" over "Dancing with the Stars?" And Michelle Bachman couldn't choose between Elvis and Johnny Cash. Does that indicate her inability to pick should it ever come down to a choice between the right to privacy and the need for security? You be the judge.

But names, like relatives, are given and not chosen. Is it fair to hold anyone accountable for choices their parents made? Obviously not. And so whomever is the challenger, whether their name rolls trippingly off your tongue or makes you wonder what his or her parents were thinking, one can only hope that voters do more than take the WC Fields approach when they make their choice: "Hell, I never vote for anybody, I always vote against."


Marc Wollin of Bedford finds the Republican debates the best reality show on TV. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

No comments: