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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  by 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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Of Parades, Nicknames, and Other Political Spats

The stock markets were down again on Wednesday, but not to a panic-inducing extent, and the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans in Congress neared a compromise that would avert another government shutdown before tonight’s latest looming deadline, albeit a budget-busting one that neither side can celebrate. All in all it was a pretty slow news day, but as usual President Donald Trump provided plenty of what the newspaper people call filler.
Trump’s critics were able to fill countless column inches and big chunks of the 24-hour cable news cycle criticizing the Commander in Chief’s order for a grand military parade showcasing America’s might down Pennsylvania Avenue past the fancy Trump Hotel, and his most die-hard defenders couldn’t muster much of a defense for the idea. The District of Columbia’s city hall is worried about the damage that tanks and nuclear missiles might do to their expensively paved streets, and pretty much all the newspapers and all but one of the cable news networks had no shortage of retired generals and admirals saying on the record that it seemed a damned stupid deployment of tanks and nuclear missiles. Several of the more old-fashioned Republicans left in the party also opined that America has such an impressively big military stick that everyone already knows it, so it’s best to speak softly about it, unlike those envious regimes in North Korea and Iran and France and other godforsaken nations that routinely parade their relatively puny military hardware.
Even our Pop, a proud former Air Force officer and longstanding member of the military-industrial complex who’s an at-least-he’s-not-Hillary Trump supporter, admitted over lunch that the whole parade idea “sounds a little third-worldly.” The more die-hard sorts of Trump supporters will insist that the Commander in Chief merely wants to pay tribute to America’s fighting forces, and anyone who has objections to that is objectively un-American and arguably treasonous, but by now no one else doubts that like everything else the parade is more about Trump and his big stick than it is about anything or anyone else.
Meanwhile, on a slow news day we notice that Trump seems to be losing the nickname wars he’s long waged. He’s lately “tweeted” that New York Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on that pesky House committee looking into the “Russia thing,” is “Little” Adam Schiff, a diminutive description he’s previously bestowed on fellow Republican and Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and although he creatively spelled  the Republican Tenessee Sen. Bob Corker as “Liddle Bob,” it’s starting to get stale. Around the same time Illinois’ Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth more damningly nicknamed Trump “Cadet Bonespur,” an apparently jocular reference to the military school Trump’s Pop sentenced him to and the spurious — if you’ll forgive the pun — medical condition that spared Trump from service in the Vietnam War but didn’t seem to interrupt his tennis and golf games and the constant womanizing he jokingly described as his own “personal Vietnam.”
That might seem a cheap shot at a sitting president, but in Duckworth’s case it’s undeniably been hard-earned. She made the remark in response to Trump’s jocular remark about treasonous Democrats failing to sufficiently applaud his State of the Union address, and although we disagree with most of her Democratic politics we can well understand why she resents “Cadet Bonespur” even jokingly impugning her patriotism for insufficient applause, She lost both legs in the Iraq War she willingly signed up for. Even Trump won’t dare “tweet” back that he likes a soldier who didn’t lose her legs for her country, even though he got away with similar disrespect for the heroic wartime sacrifices of Arizona[‘s Republican Sen. John McCain. Worse yet, Trump’s former die-hard defenders at Breitbart.com and on some of the right-wing talk radio shows are now calling him “Amnesty Don” because of his most recent stands on illegal immigration, and it’s going to take some pretty clever nicknaming to counter-punch that.
At this point we hold out hope Trump seems so ridiculous that the stock market will absorb a much-needed correction without panic and the rest of the economy will chug along without him, that the more reasonable sorts of Democrats and Republicans will come up with some desultory but veto-proof agreement to at least keep the government limping along, and that the filler will prove just as entertaining.

— Bud Norman

The Election Year of the Schoolyard Taunt

At this late date in the presidential race we can’t think of anything worse to call the Republican nominee than “Donald J. Trump,” and “Hillary Rodham Clinton” is about as awful an epithet as we can spit out for the Democratic nominee, but everyone else seems to have some other preference. Coming up with contemptuous nicknames for one’s political enemies has become something of a national pastime during this election, to the point that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
The Republican nominee is an avid nicknamer, having dispatched such worthy opponents as former Florida Gov. Jeb “Low-Energy” Bush, Florida Sen. “Little” Marco Rubio, and Texas Sen. “Lyin'” Ted Cruz on his unlikely way to the nomination, and his supporters on the talk radio shows and the comments sections of countless internet sites have been endlessly creative about his general election opponent. A partial list of Clinton’s nicknames include “Hellary,” “HilLIARy,” “Shrillary,” as well as the inevitable “Hitlery,” and those are just the variations on her first name. The more high-browed critics on the right have dubbed her “The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua,” while the saltier sorts routinely refer to her as “Monica Lewinsky’s Boyfriend’s Wife,” and the downright meaner sorts often invoke “Her Thighness,” “President Pantsuit,” the ever popular “Cankles,” which is apparently a neologism for those sorts of aging legs where the calves and ankles seem to converge, and of course “Cankles McPantsuit.” We had frequently encountered Hillary “Rotten” Clinton before the Republican nominee started publicly using it, and although he did think to affix it with “Crooked” he seems to be getting behind the game. He also likes to call Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas,” nd allusion to her baseless claims to be a Native American, even though the more sophisticated “Fauxcahontas” had already been around since that scandal broke.
Although the Democratic nominee has thus far refrained from such schoolyard taunts, presumably because it would be below the station of The Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, many of her supporters aren’t so genteel. They’ve been in the nicknaming game since way back in the days of President George W. “Chimpy McBushitler” Bush, also known as “Smirky McBushitler” and “Smirky the Chimp,” and they’ve been busier yet ever since Trump arrived on the scene. So far the top plays on his name seem to be “tRump” and “D-Rump,” along with “Drumpf,” which apparently was Trump’s patrilineal family name until his immigrant grandfather made the fortuitous change. The name Trump doesn’t easily lend itself to any sort of Hitler-ization, so his enemies have been reduced to calling him “Herr Trump” or “Herr tRump” or “Herr Drumpf.” Just as the Democratic nominee’s of-a-certain-age figure have come into play, so has the Republican nominee’s undeniable orange hue, with such nicknames as “Don Cheeto” and “Orange-utang” and “Der Orange Fuhrer” coming into play. The truncated sound of Trump better lends itself to insults against his so loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters, who are dismissed as “Trumpanzees” and “Trumpets” and “Trumpkins,” among other things. Among the more cerebral sorts on the NeverTrump right they’re known as the “Trumpenproletariat,” which we rather like even if it does play into stereotypes about us NeverTrump right type’s snootiness.
The game has been going on since the birth of the republic, of course, and judging by graffiti the archaeologists have found in ancient Rome and Athens it’s pretty much a permanent feature of any republican system of government. Perhaps it’s just because the internet and the modern presidential campaign cycle are so much more ubiquitous than even graffiti, but we’re starting to weary of it. Both candidates are well worthy of the scorn, but not because of their thick ankles or orange hue, and we’d rather that people were paying attention the worst of it, or at least came up with something clever.

— Bud Norman