We could do worse than Sen. Panza


Ever been stuck with a sharply hurtful nickname?

Then you know how Lindsey Graham must feel.

George Will has penned -- and pinned -- a mocking moniker on our state's senior senator.

Will wrote in his April 7 column, which ran not only in his home-base Washington Post but in The Post and Courier:

"Serving, as usual, as Sancho Panza to Sen. John McCain's Don Quixote, Graham said last Sunday, 'We should be taking the fight to Tripoli.' "

Then, in his June 23 column, which also ran in both esteemed publications, Will wrote:

"Sen. Lindsey Graham -- Sancho Panza to McCain's Don Quixote -- says 'Congress should sort of shut up' about Libya."

In case you've forgotten Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's 17th century Spanish literary classic "Don Quixote of La Mancha," Sancho Panza is the devoted-squire sidekick of the delusional, title-character knight.

A typical Sancho perspective:

"My master must be right, for since everything that has happened to him is by enchantment, perhaps what seems an hour to us would seem three days and nights down there."

There's nothing enchanting, though, about the growing schism within not just the conservative movement but the U.S. public on America's persisting world-cop duty.

The essence of that dispute: Is our role as international good-guy enforcer indispensable? Unsustainable? Both?

Back to Sen. Panza. Kevin Bishop, Graham's spokesman, laughed off that demeaning analogy Thursday, telling me: "We just have an honest disagreement with George Will."

And Graham isn't the first politician scorned and covered with figurative scars by a negative nickname.

For instance:

--"Landslide Lyndon": Johnson's fishy 87-vote victory in the 1948 Texas Senate race earned him that sarcastic sobriquet, originator unclear.

--"Tricky Dick": Richard Nixon acquired that all-too-warranted label from a Democratic campaign ad in a 1950 California Senate race.

--"Slick Willie": Then-Gov. Bill Clinton was aptly tagged thus by prescient Paul Greenberg in a 1980 Pine Bluff Commercial editorial. Columns by Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, still regularly grace our Commentary page.

--"The Teflon President": Ronald Reagan got this dismissive title from Rep. Patricia Shroeder, D-Colo., who was frustrated by the public's reluctance to join her in finding fault with him. This "Gipper" fan much prefers "The Great Communicator."

--"The Breck Girl": John Edwards' hairy brand first appeared in print in 2003 when The New York Times credited it to a "Bush associate." Its validity was confirmed four years later when the former North Carolina senator was caught unaware on video preening over his luscious locks.

--"The Anointed One": Barack Obama was derisively dubbed such by Sean Hannity, right-wing star of Fox News and talk radio.

Judge for yourself how well, or poorly, nicknames fit.

For instance, check out our 14th president, Franklin Pierce.

Now behold the other mug shot running with this column.

Who is more deserving of Pierce's "Handsome Frank" handle?

Some other presidential nicknames: Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, Zachary "Old Rough and Ready" Taylor, "Honest Abe" Lincoln (once much more commonly known in these parts as "The Illinois Baboon"), Andrew "The Tennessee Tailor" Johnson, Rutherford B. "His Fraudulency" Hayes and "Silent Cal" Coolidge.

Closer to our place and time, Charleston's longtime mayor has long been known as "Little Joe."

Before assuming that's an insult, keep in mind that "Little Joe," played by the late Michael Landon, is the thoroughly likable, admirable, youngest Cartwright brother on "Bonanza."

Keep in mind, too, that Sancho Panza, though loyal beyond reason, provides practical-realist counterbalance to his quixotic, impossible-dreamer boss.

And if you, like Graham, must put up with a putdown nickname, heed Sancho's sage advice:

"Whisht, Teresa! We must take the rough with the smooth."

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His e-mail is wooten@postandcourier.com.