It’s common for Congress to honor its own. Government programs, post offices, federal buildings, roads, bridges, highways, and airports all bear the names given by politicians, for politicians.
So there’s nothing unusual about naming things after the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. But we need to draw a line against going too far. Let’s squash the idea — popular on the left —that we should make over one-sixth of our economy to honor the senator’s devotion to government-run healthcare.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “We’re going to organize and honor Ted’s legacy by fighting like hell for healthcare reform.” AFSCME president Gerald McEntee said they “can’t let Ted Kennedy down” and must push forward for the legislation.
But Congress has already honored him. Richly. This spring, lawmakers passed a bill to spend $6 billion over the next five years on an additional 175,000 “professional volunteers.” Congress named it the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.” We used to call it Americorps.
And even before Kennedy’s death, Congress approved a $5.8 million “planning and design” earmark for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute at the University of Massachusetts, which would include creating a full-size replica of the Senate chamber. Kennedy’s colleague, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., then added another $12.6 million earmark (still pending in Congress) to help build it.
The Boston Globe wrote, “The center will be a shrine to the Senate, with homage to Kennedy, just as the building next door is a showcase for the presidency, with the focus on his brother John.”
Citizens Against Government Waste complained, “This pet project has already received millions of dollars from the healthcare industry and organized labor. Taxpayers should not be responsible for helping the project reach its $50 million fundraising goal.”
We’re accustomed to seeing donors’ names on stadiums and college buildings. But the practice of honoring politicians is done with tax money. “Monuments to me” is the mocking description given to these by a critic, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis. (Obey has a college building named for him in Wausau, Wis., but says it was not at his request).
Obey typically lets loose when it’s an incumbent office-holder who is honored, as opposed to former or deceased officials.
Examples abound. Recent ones include:An earmark secured by Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service, the Rangel Conference Center, and the Charles Rangel Library at the City College of New York.The Pennsylvania airport named for Rep. John Murtha, D-Penn., who has secured $150 million for it to handle three flights a day.14 projects named for Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., including a golf course, a highway overpass, a bus station, and of course a bronze statue.36 namesakes of Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.Millions earmarked by Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., for the Lewis Center for Education Research. There’s also a Jerry Lewis Elementary at Fort Irwin in his district.The GI bill was renamed the Sonny Montgomery GI bill after the late Mississippi congressman.
Is there anything wrong or sinister about honoring public officials by naming things in their honor? Of course not. But it should not be a blank check to waste our money (which typically features presidents on our currency, plus Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton).
Conservatives launched a successful Ronald Reagan Legacy project in the late president’s honor. Still underway, it aims to name significant public landmarks after Reagan in the 50 states and over 3,000 counties of the United States, as well as in formerly communist countries across the world.
This is why we have a bumper crop of Reagan markers, such as the Ronald Reagan Parkway in Indiana, Ronald Reagan Memorial Highway in Wisconsin, education department building in Harris County, Texas [Houston], Ronald Reagan Turnpike in Florida, and of course Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport along the Potomac River in northern Virginia. (Some griped that it cost $400,000 to change the maps and airport signs. I didn’t. I also cherish my framed copy of an enlarged Reagan postage stamp.)
It’s expected that presidents will be remembered and honored. Beyond that, the merits of renaming are in the eye of the beholder. And as Obey argues, it should never be for a “monument to me.” Neither ego nor emotion is a proper standard for spending public money.
Liberals proclaim “Let’s win one for Teddy!” as though only a total healthcare makeover is a suitable remembrance. If they put his name on the legislation, that’s not unusual. But anyone who changes their vote on that basis is not worthy of holding public office.
Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation and is in recovery from serving 14 years as a U.S. congressman from Oklahoma.
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