WASHINGTON – Come now the Denali deniers.
President Barack Obama’s conservative critics have long said there is no depth to which he will not sink in his zeal to trash the Constitution. Now, apparently, they also think there is no height to which he will not climb in that same effort.
Obama went to the very top this weekend – to 20,320 feet to be exact – and stripped North America’s highest peak of its official name of the last century, Mount McKinley, returning it to what Alaskans had called it for centuries: Denali, or Great One.
Obama’s opponents immediately condemned him for acting like a dictator, taking unconstitutional action, overstepping his authority, engaging in a partisan stunt and, of course, exhibiting racial animus. President William McKinley, after all, was a white guy. And, um, the mountain itself is mostly white.
“I hope my colleagues will join with me in stopping this constitutional overreach,” proclaimed Ohio Rep. Bob Gibbs, vowing to work with the House natural resources committee to reverse Obama. “President Obama has decided to ignore an Act of Congress in unilaterally renaming Mount McKinley in order to promote his job-killing war on energy. This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans.”
Former Rep. Ralph Regula, also from McKinley’s home state of Ohio, asserted to The Columbus Dispatch that Obama “thinks he is a dictator and he can change the law.” Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio saw it as “yet another example of the president going around Congress,” while Ohio Rep. Mike Turner scolded Obama for moving to “undermine a prior act of Congress.” Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate, tweeted that “POTUS once again oversteps his bounds,” and House Speaker John Boehner, also from Ohio, pronounced himself “deeply disappointed.”
It wasn’t just a provincial dispute. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Fox News, thought the move might have something to do with McKinley being Republican. “People feel like this president is constantly trying to, like, stick it in our eye, and put his thumb in our eye.” The conservative website Gateway Pundit posted an item titled “Obama Renames Mount McKinley (Named After Some White Guy) to Denali.”
At the conservative outlet Breitbart.com, Ben Shapiro asked, “Why did Obama choose to change the name now? Presumably because Obama has now solved all the world’s problems, and decided against his second choice, Mount Trayvon.” Shapiro said a “more serious” explanation was that Obama “opposes the legacy of President McKinley,” which includes the Spanish-American war and annexing various territories. Asked Shapiro: “When will President Obama change the name of the American Southwest to Aztlan?” The deeper one wandered into the conservative blogosphere and twitterverse, the uglier the messages became – about Obama’s anti-American views, his Muslim practices and his urge to defecate on his predecessors.
Actually, Obama is perfectly within his authority to make the change. If his opponents are really outraged, they can overrule him in Congress or they can elect a president who will change the name back. The problem with both of these is that Alaska, run by Republicans, want the name to be Denali and have been trying to make the change for decades. The Alaska delegations – Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, Republicans all – heralded the move (even as Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who represents McKinley’s hometown, joined the opposition).
There’s also the small matter of conservatives claiming to support local control, and devolution of power; in this case, they’re demanding the federal government to continue to overrule a state’s wishes. A more ideologically consistent solution would be for the Ohioans to rename something of their own – say, Cincinnati or Columbus – after McKinley. McKinley hadn’t even visited his eponymous peak, named for him by a prospector before McKinley was elected the 25th president.
More likely, the mountain will be added to other molehills of Obama overreach: Obamacare, the stimulus, Dodd-Frank, the IRS, immigration, executive appointments and on and on. The common objection to all of these is less about what was done than who did it.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.