Paul Greenberg

Of course, there'll always be a few aginners with no head for business or just a censorious cast of mind who'll object to honoring a president because he might have, let's say, a checkered past. But they can be safely brushed aside. Commerce and hometown pride come first in these matters.

Yes, the always changing name of a public facility can be awkward. At last report, the official name of Little Rock's airport is now going to be the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport/Adams Field, which is quite a mouthful. Presumably other names can be added, or some subtracted, by popular demand in the future. Not to mention historical or commercial pressures.

The names of whole cities and countries have been known to change. Istanbul used to be Constantinople, and St. Petersburg over in Russia is back to being St. Petersburg again after a long disastrous interval as Leningrad. At the moment, whether Stalingrad is still Stalingrad or Volgograd again escapes me. Such are the hazards of nominal fortunes when names change with the political tides.

Some name changes do stick. Julius Caesar renamed a whole month for himself, and we still call it July. More ordinary politicians are content with buildings in their honor. The egotism of politicos, current and ex-, knows no bounds, and neither does the flattery lavished on them by go-getters who can see a profit in it.

I don't anticipate a Jack the Ripper/Guy Fawkes international airport in London any time soon, but tastes are hard to predict. Me, I'd happily support an outsize statue of Sherlock Holmes in his cape and deerstalker hat, accompanied by the ever faithful Dr. Watson, somewhere in Grosvenor Square. Preferably shrouded in London fog. It would be a nice change from solemn monuments to political figures now long since forgotten.

Unfortunately, renamed sites tend to be irony-free zones. So it's probably too much to hope that the newly renamed airport in Little Rock will include an Impeachment Drive.

Man's edifice complex has been out of control at least since the pharaohs, but naming terminals after distinguished politicos won't be entirely satisfying until some archaeologist comes across the remains of an Ozymandias International Airport buried deep in the lone and level sands, as in:

'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The name change at Little Rock's airport won't be fully satisfying till it is proclaimed on a huge sign as you enter. Maybe it could be bordered by flashing light bulbs, like the billboards in George Bailey's nightmarish vision of Pottersville, which was called Bedford Falls before it was renamed in "It's a Wonderful Life" -- a moralistic little fable about what can happen when a town loses its moral bearings. And decides to make itself over in the image of its most prominent and powerful citizen.

And it is a wonderful life -- if you can just hold on to your sense of humor. Not to mention Mr. Mencken's gift for lèse majesté. Herr Mencken will probably have a memorial bed-and-breakfast with lace curtains named for him in Baltimore someday if there isn't one already. Although a beer parlor might be a more fitting memorial. But any such monument is unlikely. The commissions that authorize these memorials can be remarkably sober types. And iconoclasts usually don't rate public monuments. Just imagine an equestrian statue of Henry Louis Mencken, cigar and all. And laugh.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.