Last week President Obama renamed our nation’s highest peak, Alaska’s Mt. McKinley, to its original, Indian moniker of Denali. This was met with synthetic outrage by Ohio Republicans like John Boehner and Rob Portman, who claimed the change was an insult to their state and its native son, 25th president William McKinley.
Progressive cell phone provider CREDO Mobile wasn’t having any of that. They responded to Republican complaints about Mt. Denali by launching a petition drive to rename Ronald Reagan National Airport back to Washington National Airport. After all, CREDO argues, Boehner and a Republican Congress had no qualms about removing president George Washington’s name from a national landmark in 1998.
The petition is purely symbolic, but as someone who refuses to call it anything but DCA or National, I love the angle. Naming an airport after Reagan was uniquely insulting; one of the signature acts of his presidency was his ruthless firing of 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, a move that undermined organized labor and adversely affected airports for years.
As historian Joseph McCartin wrote in 2011: Air travel was significantly curtailed, and it took several years and billions of dollars (much more than Patco had demanded) to return the system to its pre-strike levels.
So I think it’s inappropriate to name an airport after Ronald Reagan. But that doesn’t mean the 40th president doesn’t deserve recognition for his accomplishments. He should absolutely get credit for his lasting legacies, and there’s no better way to ensure that than by naming symbols of those legacies in his honor.
Here are five things to name for Ronald Reagan that’d be more fitting than the national airport:
The National Debt
DCA is small change when compared to the vast sum of money our government owes its creditors. So, to honor the godfather of big government spending, I say we call it the Ronald Reagan National Debt. This would properly recognize the man who took a $900 billion debt and spiked it to $2.2 trillion. It took 31 years to triple our post-war debt, but Ronnie did it in just eight!
Northrop Grumman and/or Lockheed Martin
Reagan loved his Star Wars. A big chunk of the Ronald Reagan National Debt came from spending trillions on defense, making a lot of people in Virginia and Maryland very wealthy. To honor their faithful patron (and fellow arms seller), one of the major American defense contractors should add Reagan to their name. Northrup Grumman Reagan and Lockheed Reagan Martin roll off the tongue like intercontinental ballistic missiles.
DC’s Whitehurst Freeway
Reagan may have almost tripled the national debt, but he stuck to his guns on spending cuts when it came to mental health. As both president and governor, Reagan oversaw an unprecedented defunding of mental health institutions. This put countless thousands of mentally ill Americans on the streets and resulted in a sizable spike in the homeless population.
To recognize this oft-overlooked aspect of Ronnie’s legacy, I propose we rename Washington’s Whitehurst Freeway, that little stretch of elevated road over by the Watergate. It is under and around this road where many of Washington’s homeless live and make camp. It would only be fitting that they find shelter from the rain under the Ronald Reagan Freeway.
It’s a crying shame that there aren’t prisons named after Ronald Reagan in every state. No man has done more to make incarceration a central part of the American experience or to make prisons a profitable industry. As our most aggressive general in the War on Drugs, Reagan fully doubled our prison population in his eight years in office. His 1987 drug bill enshrined mandatory minimum sentencing, ultimately sending and keeping countless non-violent offenders behind bars. He is the prison president, and it’s about time he got a little recognition.
That 1987 drug bill also famously mandated harsher penalties for crack than for powder cocaine, ensuring a vast and unjust racial disparity in sentencing. But you can’t very well name thousands of incarcerated black people after Ronald Reagan, so why not do the next best thing and rename the drug? If you smoke a few rocks of Ronnie, you just might get high enough to think Reagan was a small government conservative.