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The Politics and Other Problems of Nicknames

The stock markets were down but not precipitously in the calm before the trade war on Wednesday, all the late night comics had already beaten us to the obvious jokes jokes about the president and the porn star story, and there were no new “tweets” or significant developments in the “Russia thing.” During this blissful lulls in the news we came across one of those inside-the-pages and bottom-of-the-hour stories about the upcoming senatorial race in Texas, and we took a peculiar interest because it involved nicknames.
Even if you don’t usually follow Texas politics, as we usually don’t, you’re no doubt by now familiar with incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz, the ferociously anti-Republican establishment Republican who came in second in the Republican primary to the even more anti-Republican establishment candidate and eventual Republican President Donald Trump. Cruz easily won his party’s renomination in Tuesday’s Republican primary, partly with help from the endorsement of Trump, who had nicknamed him “Lyin’ Ted” and disparaged Cruz’s wife’s looks and accused Cruz’s father of complicity in the assassination of President John Kennedy during the primary battles, and for now he’s the betting favorite in the race.
In the general election Cruz will be pitted against Democratic winner Rep. Beto O’Rourke, which is a name you probably won’t recognize even if you’re a Democratic news junkie in Texas. He’s a congressman from one of the southwester-nmost of Texas’ many congressional districts, and a Democrat in a reliably Republican state, and apparently one of those occasional Texas liberals, but this is the first we’ve heard of him.
The first thing that Cruz pointed out, though, is that he’s not really “Beto” O’Rourke. He’s actually Robert “Beto” O’Rourke. In Spanish-speaking cultures “Beto” is an affectionate shortening of everyone from Roberto to Albertino to Henberto, although not usually Robert, and the Canadian-born and Cuban-descended released a satiric poem implying that the clearly-not-Latino O’Rourke was shamelessly pandering to the Latino community. In this age of shameless identity politics pandering by Democrats it would usually be a plausible argument, but in this particular case there are a couple of problems.
The first is that O’Rourke has apparently been going by “Beto” since long before he launched his political career. He’s among the fourth generation of O’Rourkes to grow up in the very latino town of El Paso, which he now represents in Congress, he immediately responded to Cruz’s taunts with a photo of himself as an adorable elementary school student clad in a “Beto” sweatshirt, and by all accounts all of his latino and caucasion classmates and constituents have always known him as “Beto.”
Then there’s the fact that Sen. “Ted” Cruz is actually Sen. Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz. He’s not lyin’ when he calls himself “Ted,” as he’s been going by that moniker since long before he launched a political career, but in this age of shameless identity politics by the Democrats he stands credibly accused of pandering to the racial resentments of the Republican party. How that plays out in the complicated politics of faraway and unfamiliar Texas remains to be seen, but from our Kansas perspective we would have advised that Cruz commence his reelection campaign ┬áby pointing out that by any name O’Rourke is still an indisputable Democrat.
Our longstanding policy is to refer to any person we meet by whatever name they prefer, but that’s a matter of mere politeness rather than politics, and it’s rather personal. For many decades now we’ve gone by “Bud,” which of course is not our given name, as no decent parents ever named a child “Bud,” and although it’s an old inside joke that’s by now impossible to explain we still insist on it in all social occasions. We used to do all our bank transactions by the name, but one day we had to fill out a whole lot of forms to deposit a check written to “Bud,” something to do with the Democrats’ damned Dodd-Frank Act. We still sign everything important with “Bud” in quotation marks after the first and middle names, just to avoid any possible confusion, and always resent the imputation that a friendly nickname is a nefarious alias.
To whatever extent O’Rourke was hoping to ingratiate himself to Latino classmates, or Cruz was hoping to win over WASPy neighbors, we figure they they were both being friendly.
In any case, we wish both Rafael and Robert or “Ted” or “Beto” or whatever you call them the best, and hope it doesn’t come down to their preferred nicknames and the dumb identity politics on both the left and right. If it came down to a blind test by voters based solely on the candidates’ last names, we suspect a lot of Texas Democrats would go for Cruz and a lot of Texas Republicans would go for O’Rourke, Irish though it is, and that seems a damned dumb way to decide an election.

— Bud Norman

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