Editor’s Note: The following represents the debut of a new feature for Blueprint. It’s a regular column by writer Richard E. Meyer. Called “A Lighter Look,” Meyer’s columns represent a desperate attempt to ratchet down the ominous overtones of contemporary politics and to view them through a slightly lighter lens. Hence the name. Meyer’s work will appear online and in print editions of Blueprint, where he also serves as senior editor.
It’s about the letters in their names.
Not whether they are women or men. Not whether they are young or old. And certainly not whether they are qualified.
On a recent trip to Washington, I visited the warehouse where Uniquack lives in quiet retirement. For you youngsters, Uniquack is the imaginary computer James Reston, a renowned New York Times columnist, consulted when he was puzzled by presidential politics.
One day in 1983, Scotty Reston, as he was known, became thoroughly perplexed. He approached the bulky, up-to-the-minute machine, powered by cathode ray tubes, covered with wires and alive with blinking lights.
“Who’s going to win the 1984 presidential election?” Reston asked.
In his column, he reported this exchange:
“A. It’s between R. Reagan and J. Glenn.
“Q. How do you know?
“A. With few exceptions, the American presidents of this century have had a double letter in their names, whereas the single-letter candidates have invariably been losers.
“Q. Don’t be ridiculous.
“A. Just look at the record of the winners: William McKinley – two L’s for William. Theodore Roosevelt, two O’s. Followed of course by William Howard Taft, with his stand-up L’s, Woodrow Wilson, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
“Q. How do you suppose that double-L George Gallup overlooked this trend?
“A. He was probably out to lunch.”
Uniquack warned that Walter Mondale “might change his nickname to Wally, and it might make all the difference.”
Glenn dropped out of the race. Mondale stuck with the nickname Fritz, and Reagan defeated him by a landslide to win a second term in the White House.
With this in mind, I approached Uniquack with a measure of respect. Computers have improved a lot since then, but as a mere human, I didn’t have a single cathode ray tube, and sometimes my lights are dim.
Q. Hi, computer.
A. You’re from California.
Q. How can you tell?
A. Your lights are dim.
Q. Don’t get personal. Who’s going to win the 2020 presidential election?
A. So many people are running that I can’t even add them up.
Q. My cellphone can.
A. Don’t get personal.
Q. What about Pete Buttigieg?
A. Nobody can pronounce his name.
Q. Joe Biden?
A. Is he the same Biden that Scotty typed into my memory 32 years ago? My memory has crashed twice since then.
Q. Okay, how about the others with double letters? Some have one letter of the double in each name, like Amy Klobuchar (one ‘a’ in Amy, the other ‘a’ in Klobuchar). Others have both double letters in the same name: Tulsi Ga‘bb’ard. Some have two sets of double letters: Kirsten G’illi’brand (two ‘l’s, flanked by two ‘i’s). Some have triple letters: Bet‘o’ ‘O’R‘o’urke, C‘o’ry B‘oo’ker and B‘e’rni‘e’ Sand‘e’rs. One has a set of triple letters and two sets of double letters: Elizabeth Warren (three ‘e’s, two ‘a’s and two ‘r’s). One has quadruple letters plus a set of double letters: Kamala Harris (four ‘a’s and two ‘r’s). One has two sets of triple letters: Marianne Williamson (three ‘a’s and three ‘i’s) . . .
A: I’m getting a pain in my motherboard.
Q. What about Donald Trump? He has only one double letter.
A. Odds are he’s a loser.
Q: That’s what you thought when he ran against Hillary Clinton, who has a double letter and a triple letter.
A: You thought he was a loser too.
Q: But my lights are dim.