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Can Obama reclaim ‘Obamacare?’

at 01:50 PM ET, 04/09/2012

Linguist Ben Zimmer digs into previous presidents’ attempts to own their eponyms and finds success largely hinges on the popularity of the policy:

Events on the ground have dictated the fate of other personalized political words, such as those in the “-nomics” family. “Nixonomics” was originally suggested within the Nixon White House in the summer of 1969, in a memo circulated by a young speechwriter named William Safire. But by that fall, “Nixonomics” was already being used disparagingly in the press. Thus, when “Reaganomics” came into use during Ronald Reagan’s first term, it carried the bad old whiff of “Nixonomics” and was a popular putdown among Democrats. When the economy recovered, however, the term lost its bite, and Reagan proudly ran on “Reaganomics” in his 1984 reelection campaign.

Personalizing the political worked the worst for President Hoover, who was plagued by numerous eponyms, most notably the shantytowns called “Hoovervilles.”

Update:Former Reagan advisor Bruce Bartlett emails:

Some people credit me with coining the term “Reaganomics”—at the time I thought of it in 1980 for my 1981 book I had never heard anyone else use it. I knew the term “Nixonomics”—I recalled a book by that name—and Reagan’s name lent itself to Reaganomics. I certainly didn’t consider the term disparaging.

 
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