Cities and school boards are naming streets and buildings after President Obama, breaking with the tradition of waiting until a president is out of office.
- Ludlum Elementary School in Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island, was renamed after Obama in November. A school in Portland, Ore., is deliberating a similar change.
- Opa-Locka, Fla., renamed one of its main city streets in December. Hollywood, Fla., is considering doing the same.
- St. Louis made an honorary name change to a busy road that used to divide white and black neighborhoods. The postal address is still Delmar Boulevard, but the city will post signs that also designate the street Barack Obama Boulevard.
The tributes are bound to continue, says Indiana University history professor Edward Linenthal.
“On the one hand, you can say it’s premature,” says Linenthal, editor of the Journal of American History. Obama’s administration has yet to make its own history, he says. “On the other hand, you can argue that what has happened is extraordinary and astonishing in American history … and the naming of streets and schools reflects that sense.”
John Gillis, editor of the book Commemorations: The Politics of National Identity, says he does not know of instances of presidents being commemorated while they were in office, let alone before they took office, as some of the changes were.
“This is a trivialization of the serious process of naming,” he says. “This is all hope and no memory. It’s all anticipation and no looking back.”
Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan have been the most popular presidents in the last century for commemorations, Gillis says. Hundreds of schools and civic buildings have been named for them.
Jean Bligen, principal of Barack Obama Elementary School on Long Island, says the idea for the name change came from fifth-graders who had held mock debates before the election and were excited about Obama’s win.
“The children take such pride over the name being changed and knowing they represent such a strong individual,” she says.
Obama is being honored abroad, too. The Associated Press reports that Antigua is renaming 1,300-foot Boggy Peak, its highest spot, Mount Obama.
In Perry County, Ala., where the 1965 killing of a black man by a white state trooper in Marion led to the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, commissioners paid tribute to the president by designating the second Monday in November a legal holiday: Barack Obama Day.
This level of worship is unmatched in US history as I can tell. Especially for someone in office a week. I agree with J.H. Huebert over at LRC blog:
Some libertarians see this as an opportunity for people to be disillusioned when Obama fails, but I don’t. Given these people’s unquestioning adoration for Obama — and his status in their minds as someone as untouchable as Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King — whatever goes wrong will not be his fault, no matter what. Instead, it will be the fault of anyone who has attempted to restrain him in any way. When he fails, they will be ready and willing to give him more power — all that he says he needs.
The children represent him? The myth that our government represents us is bad enough; the idea that people now think we exist to represent our so-called leader is terrifying.