House Speaker John Boehner believes the federal government should allow states greater freedom to govern themselves. Except when it comes to naming their mountains.
Boehner has joined many of his Ohio colleagues in criticizing President Obama for removing the name of former President William McKinley — proud son of Niles, Ohio — from a mountain in Alaska. One Republican member of the Ohio delegation called it “insulting to all Ohioans.”
Yet McKinley never visited Alaska, which would not become a state until more than 50 years after his death. That his name ended up atop the highest peak in North America is a fluke of history. A New Hampshire-born gold prospector dubbed it Mount McKinley in 1896, either as a spontaneous tribute to the new Republican presidential nominee or a partisan payback to the verbose proponents of free silver (McKinley was a defender of the gold standard) that he had met while in the wilderness. Or perhaps both.
The details don’t much matter. McKinley’s connection to the mountain is a political curio that, understandably, Alaskans have long been eager to leave behind. Few residents use the name Mount McKinley. They call it Denali, a native Alaskan name connoting its great height. In 1975, Alaska officially named the mountain Denali and petitioned the federal government to do so, too. But Ohio’s lawmakers have stood in the way for 40 years.
Ohioans would not have taken kindly if, in 2008, an outsider had pushed to name Cuyahoga Valley National Park after Sarah Palin. Nor if someone tried to name the Ohio River after Rick Swenson, who holds the record for the most Iditarod championships. Either change would make as much sense as naming Denali for McKinley.
There are plenty of ways to honor McKinley, a Civil War veteran whose presidency was characterized by expansionism abroad (the U.S. annexed Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii and Guam during his tenure) and protectionism at home. But any such honors ought to relate to his life and work.
If Ohioans want to elevate the memory of McKinley, maybe they could look to the highest point in their own state. Campbell Hill is a former Air Force base that has been transformed into a career-technical school for high school students and adults. How about calling it McKinley Hill?
Better yet: Since McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist with a gun, and gun violence remains a plague on American life, Ohio’s congressional delegation could push for common-sense laws that prevent people with records of criminal activity or mental illness from acquiring guns. That would be a mountainous achievement worthy of McKinley’s name.
FROM A BLOOMBERG VIEW EDITORIAL