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The Edifice Complex

By John Stossel

Why do we let politicians name buildings after each other? I understand building monuments to honor leaders like Washington and Jefferson. But monuments to current members of Congress? Haven't we lowered the bar too far?

Today all a congressman has to do to get his name slapped on a building is bring home enough pork.

Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott has lots of facilities named after him: a middle school, an airport, the Trent Lott Center at Jackson State, the Trent Lott Leadership Institute, and more.

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd has even more named after him. My show, "20/20," discovered more than 30 buildings, a bridge, even a telescope.

This practice of naming buildings after living public figures is relatively new. The Lincoln Memorial didn't appear until more than 50 years after Lincoln's death. The Washington Monument came 89 years after Washington died.

One politician wants to stop such self-glorification. Dan Greenberg, an Arkansas state legislator, introduced the "Edifice Complex Prevention Bill." It would ban his state's politicians from naming buildings after themselves. "For me it just comes too close to using taxpayer money to build temples to living people," he told me.

Arkansas politicians are as guilty as others in memorializing one another. The most recent former governor, Republican Mike Huckabee, who's now running for president, has plenty named after him, and even his wife, Janet, has things named for her, like the Mike and Janet Huckabee Lake and the Janet Huckabee Nature Center.

What made Greenberg try to stop this nonsense was discovering that a park was named after him and some other legislators. One complained that the sign with her name didn't use her campaign colors. "That was so distasteful, I just said to myself, 'Enough!'" Greenberg recalls.

Other politicians sneered at his idea, and the Edifice Complex Prevention Bill was killed in committee 11 to 3.

In Jackson, Miss., such political egotism is controversial. Some people want a new federal courthouse named after one of Mississippi's pioneering black lawyers, the late R. Jess Brown, who defended James Meredith in his effort to attend the University of Mississippi and defended Medgar Evers, the civil-rights activist who later was murdered.

But Sen. Lott has other ideas. He thinks the courthouse should be called the Cochran Federal Courthouse because his colleague Sen. Thad Cochran got Congress to spend $100 million of your tax money to build it. That upsets Brown's children, as well as others in Jackson who want to see the civil-rights fighter honored.

Sen. Cochran's office says he's too modest to comment about this matter. But Sen. Lott defended his effort, saying:

"Thad Cochran moved to the Jackson area at age 9 and adopted it as his home-making partner in less than three years in the state's most respected law firm. ... Jackson voters first sent Thad to Washington where he rose to chair powerful Senate committees that advanced projects that have improved the quality of life of all Mississippians. He's responsible for Congress' approval of the new Mississippi Courthouse, and that's why Jackson residents and the Mississippi judicial community want it to bear his name."

Give me a break! Jackson residents want this? Which ones? Most Jackson residents "20/20" asked were opposed to it, saying things like, "Don't put a politician's name on it. A politician's already received enough from the American public!"

I agree. I understand why politicians like having their names on buildings. It's an ego boost. And the free advertising doesn't hurt their perpetual reelection campaigns.

But you shouldn't have to pay for their monuments to themselves.

This week another politician said "enough" to politicians' self-glorification. Probable presidential candidate Fred Thompson asked a legislator to withdraw his plan to name a stretch of U.S. Highway 43 "Fred Thompson Boulevard."

Maybe it will start a trend.

Copyright 2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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