When H.R. Crawford, chairman of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, mentioned at a MWAA Board meeting last week that he had heard "talk" on Capitol Hill about removing former President Ronald Reagan's name from Washington National Airport, he undoubtedly didn't anticipate the firestorm that would ensue. Frankly, neither did I.
Thanks to the Internet, a small blog posting went viral all over the country and people who live far from Washington are now steaming at the implied insult to our late 40th president. They'd be even hotter under the collar if they knew the backstory.
In 1997, Congress renamed the airport in honor of Reagan. The legislation was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and went into effect on Feb. 6, 1998 - Reagan's 77th birthday.
Although a big admirer of Reagan, I opposed the renaming of the airport at the time, noting that it was a bit creepy to memorialize someone who was still alive. But neither Congress nor President Clinton were swayed by my suggestion to wait a respectable amount of time after the Gipper was called to his final reward. So the airport name change became official.
Three years later, however, Metro passengers disembarking at the airport station would have no way of knowing that it was now Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport - and had been for some time - because the Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority (WMATA) refused to change the signage, claiming doing so would cost $400,000. Chris Zimmerman, the WMATA Board member from Arlington, said his county would definitely not pick up the tab.
This sudden attack of frugality came right after WMATA presumably paid $3.2 million to change the signs at eight other renamed Metro stations between 1999 and 2000. In 2001, 24 members of Congress signed a letter to WMATA requesting that the airport signs finally be changed. It was only until Rep. Bob Barr, R-GA, threatened to withhold federal funds that it finally happened during the scheduled 2003-04 renovation of the station. Then General Manager Richard White admitted that WMATA paid for the renaming - six years after it was ordered by Congress and the president.
Now, just five years later, Democrats on Capitol Hill are apparently so upset just seeing Reagan's name that they are "talking" about renaming the airport. The fact that Crawford mentioned it at a MWAA Board meeting means that this silly notion has gotten far beyond the stage where most horrible ideas die unmourned. It's time to plant a public stake in the heart of this one.
The current crop of Democrats on Capitol Hill apparently don't care to be reminded of Reagan's limited government vision for America, even though under his conservative administration the federal leviathon continued to grow. But Reagan's prescription for the stagflation he inherited from Jimmy Carter - particularly his 1981 tax cut - is the exact opposite of what President Barack Obama says will cure the ailing body politic.
History already tells us that Reagan pulled the U.S. economy out of what then was the worst economic tailspin since the Great Depression, increasing economic output by $15 trillion. The success of Obama's plan is still to be determined. Maybe the obvious comparison is just too uncomfortable.
But besides being so blatantly partisan that it will make Democrats look small and petty, the idea that you can take back an honorific and give it to somebody you like better is an abominable idea. That not only goes for Reagan, but for Thurgood Marshall, John F. Kennedy and any other public figure whose name graces an airport, bridge,or building. Playing naming musical chairs whenever a new party is in power trivializes the honor itself - like yanking a Congressional Medal of Honor off one former hero's chest so you can pin on a new recipient.
If this makes politicians think twice next time about bestowing what should be an irrevocable accolade, so much the better.
Barbara F. Hollingsworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.