Column Date 2009-01-23

So long Quasimodo, Turd Blossom and Pootie-Poo

The frat boy has left the White House.

And gone with him (I fervently hope) are all the sophomoric nicknames Dubya used to identify some of the most important and powerful people in the world.

Maybe it's a bad habit he picked up when he was in
Skull & Bones, the secret society at Yale that gives every member a nickname. Or perhaps it was the only way he could keep all those complicated names straight in his head.

There's no question that the name Vladimir Putin is difficult to pronounce, so I can see why calling him "Pootie-Poo" would help Dubya remember his name.

The same goes for Alberto Gonzales (lots of syllables), who Dubya preferred to call "Speedy."

Not to mention Christine Todd Whitman (one of the longest names in his cabinet), who was known as "Pistol Pete."

I'd guess that somebody also taught Dubya those simple memory tricks senior citizens often use to remember names. One trick, for example, is to link a person's name to a celebrity, or to his job.

Hence, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) became "Ali," since it's obviously easier to remember Muhammad than Barbara.

Congressman Fred Upton (MI) became "Freddo," which is either a Cadbury's chocolate bar, or a chain of Argentine ice cream shops.

And Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the House, was simply called "Speak."

Many people, of course, have no idea where their nicknames came from, or what they mean.

We can only hazard a guess at some of them:

John McCain was called "Hogan" – probably a reference to "Hogan's Heroes", the old TV sitcom about American POWs in Germany.

Senator Chuck Schumer (NY), was called "Ellis" – possibly having something to do with Ellis Island (half of which, however, is in New Jersey). Then again, maybe it's an obscure reference to Ellis County, Texas, which is no place near Dubya's ranch in Crawford.

Attorney General John Ashcroft was "Snake Hips," which is odd considering his religion discourages dancing. Perhaps it has something to do with how he walks, but we don't know that for sure.

And then there are the obvious nicknames:

Congressman Barney Frank, who opposed almost everything Dubya stood for, was called "Sabertooth."

Colin Powell's nickname was "The World's Greatest Hero."

And Dubya's Chief of Staff, Dan Bartlett, was known as "Danny Boy," or sometimes "Dan the Man."

As for the some of the others, you probably remember that Dick Cheney was called "Quasimodo," or "Darth Vader."

And "Turd Blossom" (largely incomprehensible, but with a great visual image) was his nickname for Karl Rove, who seems to have vanished rather than blossomed.

So, as the man known as "Dubya" or "Bushie" or "Shrub" rides off into the sunset, I am truly thankful that he took his nicknames with him.

Had Dubya's nicknames become popular, we'd still be using his tortured lingo -- referring to President Obama as "Bama," to Senator Olympia Snow (ME) as "Big O," and to Congressman John Sweeney (NY) as "Congressman Kickass."

I think our country has grown up a lot in the past week.

©2008 Peter Tannen