Initializing Drive

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Why is it that some presidents become known for posterity by their initials, and for some it never quite seems to catch on? John F. Kennedy is the prime example of an overwhelmingly initialized politician; anyone hearing the initials JFK thinks immediately of President Kennedy. On the other hand, the current President’s father was never widely known as GHB, which sounds like a date rape drug.

Nor do we call his son GWB or HIS predecessor WJC, even in headlines. President Johnson is forever memorialized as LBJ, but who refers to Jimmy Carter as JEC? Who even remembers that his middle name is Earl? Since he never uses it, headline writers could have gone with JC, but that seems a bit presumptuous, even for the famously egocentric Carter.

RMN does bring to mind Nixon, with his mnemonic “Millhouse” in the middle, but Ronald Reagan was never labeled RWR (reminding us of nothing so much as rewritable media) or the abbreviated RR (shades of Monopoly money).

Much abbreviating is done in an attempt to shave syllables. Most three letter abbreviations can be pronounced in three syllables (although that pesky “W” takes three syllables all by itself). Presidents with snappy one or two syllable last names (Bush or Ford) seem less likely to be initialized than longwinded names like Roosevelt (FDR) or Kennedy.

How about the current crop of presidential wannabes? Howard Dean, as far as we can tell by reading his on-line bios, HAS NO middle name, and referring to him as HD reminds us of the default name of the hard drive of every computer we’ve ever bought. The same is true of John Edwards and Joe Lieberman – it seems the campaigns have decided that two names are more than enough.

The one candidate who is flirting with a three letter appellation is the front runner, John Forbes Kerry. Although publicly labeling himself the second coming of JFK is something he has avoided thus far, he is clearly not adverse to an indirect association in the minds of voters. Popular pundits, however, have been left in a quandary; they cannot start referring to him as JFK, Jr. as that melancholy appellation has already painted its tragic arc across the national consciousness. Perhaps JFK II, or JFK redux? On such shaky petards is history often unceremoniously hoisted.

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