If it's all in a name, Hill Republicans hold the advantage

GOP lawmakers are busy naming Washington buildings after partyluminaries, but such an honor may elude current members.

First, former Republican President Ronald Reagan had National Airport and a marbled office colossus named after him.

Then last spring, the Central Intelligence Agency was named in honor of former Republican President George Bush.

This week, the 34th president of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower (also a Republican) was honored posthumously. His name now adorns the Old Executive Office Building, with its century-old Byzantine-tiled hallways.

It's all part of a long Washington tradition: To the victor go the naming rights. Republican leaders may have a hard time keeping their troops in line on major policy issues, but when it comes to honoring their past luminaries, the party - unsurprisingly - stands united.

Republicans "want to put their stamp on things, and this is their chance," says James Pfiffner, government professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Not that Democrats really mind; their turn may come. And the explosion of federal infrastructure in the nation's capital has provided lots of sandstone and marble that needs to be named.

"It seems to me it's a postwar phenomenon and it's gotten frantic," says White House historian William Seale, author of "The President's House."

Critics say the renaming game has gotten so out of hand that regular attempts are made to name buildings after current lawmakers.

"It's one of the highest honors we can bestow on an individual. And it should not be used for elevating members to an elitist level," says Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) of Colorado, sponsor of legislation that would prohibit the naming of any federal property in honor of a sitting member of Congress.

Historically such an honor was bestowed posthumously. "The pope waits 50 years [to name someone] a saint, the National Register of Historic Places waits for a house to reach 50 before they'll register it," Mr. Seale says. "It wouldn't hurt to wait."

Officially, the General Services Administration and Congress have principal authority for naming government properties including federal buildings, post offices, and highways. But Congress often takes the lead. (There were nine bills in the current session that would have renamed federal buildings.)

Representative Tancredo submitted his legislation after Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) of Hawaii sought to name buildings after two sitting senators.

Senator Inouye defends his failed effort to honor Sens. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania and Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa, pointing to many cases where buildings were named for sitting members of Congress.

Nevertheless, his effort led to some lampooning in Washington. In the wake of the amendment, the Family Research Council facetiously suggested the next efforts might include the Orrin Hatch Tidal Basin or the USS Barbara Boxer.

Janet Parshall, the group's spokeswoman, applauds the Tancredo legislation and says Congress works harder for its own honor than America's. "When [members of Congress] get Potomac fever, you have to pop their egos a bit."

But even critics say the building chosen to honor President Eisenhower seems logical for a former general. Located across from the White House, its hundreds of offices and miles of corridors were originally home to The State, War, and Navy Building.

Other honors, however, have been ridiculed. Mr. Reagan, a foe of big government who fired air-traffic controllers, has the largest office complex in Washington and an airport named after him.

That irony is not lost on the ages, says Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age magazine. "My feeling has always been, take great care how you name federal buildings and infant children," he says. "While the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and Courtney Love Finkelstein sound like a good idea at the time, ensuing years might cause you to regret your previous enthusiasm."

Mr. Garfield suggests the enthusiastic renaming pace of the Republicans might be matched when Democrats someday return to power. How about the Tom Hayden Library of Congress or the Dan Rostenkowski House Post Office, he teases.

Even the White House had its tongue planted firmly in cheek this week. "We've got a couple of ideas" for renaming buildings on Capitol Hill, joked White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. "Maybe the James Carville building," he winked.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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