He’ll probably drop out soon. As the primaries approach, the Washington senator looks more and more like a Washington General—someone whose job it is to lose stupidly. But Orrin Hatch and other Republican presidential aspirants can still find solace and potential strategy in the experiences of—I’m sorry about this—Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf.
Hank collected 43,000 votes in People magazine’s 1998 “Most Beautiful People” poll, giving him a 38,000-vote margin of victory over his nearest competition (Leonardo DiCaprio, who is not a dwarf). Solace: People want to see the establishment candidate lose. Solace: People like the idea of turning a fatuous beauty contest on its exquisite ear. And strategy: Anyone can be elected to anything if his name is a line of trochaic tetrameter catalectic.
Seven syllables. Four trochaic feet, with the line’s terminal breve omitted. For whatever reasons, this metrical template is stamped on the human subconscious. Anything that fits it can be memorized almost instantly. In ancient Greek and Latin, it was the basic meter for recitation forms. And it remains familiar in part because it is the signature cadence of so many English nursery rhymes:
Mary had a little lamb.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
London Bridge is falling down.
Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf. Like the famous “aesthetic number” 1.618, trochaic tetrameter catalectic has an ineffable attraction. And it’s especially potent in the realm of politics, as recent American history attests. What are the names of this century’s two best-loved presidents? John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Uh huh. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which contains a verse-medial dactyl but still scans comfortably, like “like a diamond in the sky.”
It’s a pretty particular form—not inflexible, but not accommodating of much variation either. Generally, the less snug the fit, the less secure the political reputation. George Herbert Walker Bush falls one critical unstressed syllable short. William Jefferson Clinton is syllabically correct but does not meet the metrical requirement, unless, of course, you pronounce it with a Cajun accent. (Clinton did carry Louisiana in both of his elections.) What’s certain is that strict adherence to the form assures a public figure not only name recognition but a modicum of popular acceptance, no matter how well-publicized his personal failings. (Yeah, you hear me, Charles Phillip Arthur George).
In light of this, it’s clear what candidates such as Orrin Hatch should be doing right now—having their names legally changed to things like “Marvelous Maurice Monroe.” Here are some possibilities they might want to consider:
Johnny Rhythm J McCain
Rufus R. the Superstar
Tony “It’s My Life” Montaigne
Gary Had a Little Lamb
Buster Jackson Johnson Jones
Pearly Whites ’n Baby Blues
Arthur Fonzarelli Forbes
Rubber Baby Buggy Steve
Ernest Capital J. Gaines
Betty You Can Call Me Al
Al the Angry Drunken Keyes
Al Keyes a.k.a. A.K.
Pat Buchanan Boba Fett
Those aren’t very good, now that I look at them, but maybe they’ll help get the creative gears greased. I didn’t bother thinking up any more for Buchanan. There’s no way in hell he’ll ever be elected anything.
Let me conclude by pointing out that if George W. Bush wants to solidify his status as the Republican inevitable, he should consider switching to a tetrametrical tag as well—one that’s catchy, that speaks to his experiences and those of his generation, and that suggests its own quite-viable campaign theme song. I’m referring, obviously, to “Carry On My Wayward Son.”