Nicknames in High Places

Second terms can be problematic for U.S. Presidents, but our current leader George W. Bush is staying the course by doing what he does best: bestowing nicknames on his cabinet and staff, friends and foes. You simply haven’t arrived in Washington, D.C. until “Dubya” dubs you “Cobra,” “Corndog” or “Stretch.”

In his first term, the President gazed deeply into Vladimir Putin’s Slavic soul and christened the former KGB operative “Pootie-Poot.” Enron Chairman and CEO Ken Lay was “Kenny Boy” until he was indicted, after which he wasn’t spoken of much in White House circles. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is “Guru.” Karl Rove has the high honor and distinct privilege of having two revealing diminutives: “Boy Genius” and the one in more common usage lately: “Turd Blossom.”

Because our president is a busy man, the time he has to concentrate on conjuring catchy cognomens is constrained by the world crisis de jour, scandals, iffy Supreme Court nominations etc. And it shows. He settled on calling Senator Bill Frist “Fristy.” Ted Kennedy, who would seem to offer a wealth of partisan sobriquets, is simply “Senator.”

“Johnny” was the best alias that Mr. Bush could devise for former GOP Connecticut Governor and current convict John Rowland. FEMA Director Michael Brown was affectionately known as “Brownie” before he resigned in disgrace. The late U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone’s handle was “Pablo.” As the first term wore on, Freds morphed predictably into “Freddos,” Maxes to “Maxies,” and the Richs became “Richies.”

All presidents worry about their legacy as the final years in office loom, and “Bushie” (as he calls himself) is no exception. If his nicknaming fame is to last, he knows that he must pick up the pace in his second term. Besides, people change — even Harriet Miers, for heaven’s sake — so nicknames should be current.

It’s time, my fellow Americans, for a new reality TV show: Extreme Moniker Makeovers, Oval Office. Here are some suggestions for the President. “Bushman” made Vice President Dick Cheney’s nom de guerre “Big Time,” so perhaps its appropriate for his chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby (who pilfered Phil Rizzuto’s honorific) to be given a more suitable pseudonym. How does “Hard Time” sound? Or Bush could go in a whole other direction and re-name his Veep, whose drumbeat for war in Iraq and elsewhere borders on the ghoulish. “Lon” Cheney would be perfect for our increasingly scary second-in-command.

The President’s two Supreme Court picks present an excellent opportunity for him to get back on top of the name game. John G. Roberts, Jr. — the white-bread, ultra-secretive Ivy league graduate — is the bigger challenge, one that in the past would have resulted in disappointing diminutives such as “Johnny Boy” or “John Harvard.” But these divisive times call for politicized nomenclature: addressing him as Chief Justice “Roe-berts” would be a nice touch.

As for Harriet Miers, the workaholic Bush crony with the limited resume (professional and personal), no one is wild about “Harry.” Harriet “Where’s Ozzie?” Miers would be a slight improvement. “Sister” Harriet has potential since her religion (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) seems to be her main qualification for the highest court in the land, second only to the fact that she’s never been a judge or apparently wanted to be one. Then there’s always Harriet “Where’s the Oscar” Miers. Let’s let the President decide, okay?

Speaking of the man in charge, isn’t it time for Mr. Bush to have a new given name? We’ve learned so much about him in the past five years. We know he claims not to read newspapers, and in the days right after Hurricane Katrina struck he apparently wasn’t watching television either. The title “Incurious” George has been bandied about. Now history buffs know that there have been three U.S. presidents named George, so “George III” would be a natural — without even considering its allusions to the English monarch’s disastrous foreign policy.

Cartoon aficionados may be partial to “George of the Bungle” after that zany, macho Tarzan-like character who was forever sallying forth on a handy vine and crashing headlong into trees that everyone knew were there except for poor old George. Works for me.