Today, the press is abuzz with news that President Obama, on a jaunt to Alaska, has issued an order to rename Mount McKinley, which will henceforth be called Mount Denali. Not surprisingly—but definitely disappointingly—this decision has been hailed by many on the right as an example of presidential abuse of power.
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And while the president is hardly a stranger to such abuses, in this case, he gets it right. Four quick reasons why.
First of all, the mountain is not so much being renamed as de-named, or re-renamed, or—well, you get the idea. The point is that it was called Denali long before it was called McKinley. President Obama didn’t pick a random name he happened to like; he told the federal government to stop using a name Alaska itself hasn’t used in generations.
Indeed, to my second point, this is not so much a case of federal overreach as a case of restored federalism. Alaska has referred to the mountain as Denali for 40 years already, and it has been attempting to get a name change through Congress for decades. (More powerful representatives from Ohio, President McKinley’s birthplace, have long blocked those efforts—even though what Alaska wants to call a mountain is, frankly, none of Ohio’s business.) While changing the name via Congress rather than executive order would have been preferable, conceding Alaska’s local name choice is hardly a growth of federal power.
Third, I would bet my bottom dollar that before this week the vast majority of people upset over the name change didn’t have the foggiest idea where Mount McKinley is, what President McKinley did in office, or why Alaskans want to call the mountain Denali. By contrast, Denali is very important in the creation mythology of some Alaskan natives, so the name matters to them in a way it clearly does not matter to the rest of us.
And finally, as I’ve argued before here at Rare, getting caught up in petty controversies like this is not a sound strategy for limiting government. Focusing on this sort of thing when there are far more significant issues in play is myopic at best—and in this case, it tends to make the president’s critics sound ill-informed.
Because really, who cares what Obama calls a mountain? Isn’t there a lot of other, more important stuff the government does that we can be angry about?