It's All In The Name

Street-naming -- in addition to name-calling -- is often a valuable tool of diplomacy. At the height of the Cold War in the '80s, for instance, Ronald Reagan's administration changed the name of 16th Street NW in front of the Soviet Embassy to Sakharov Plaza, to honor the valiant dissident Andrei Sahkarov and to stick it to the commies.

Now comes word from Lagos, Nigeria, that the street in front of the U.S. Embassy there has been named for former ambassador Walter Carrington, an outspoken opponent of the brutal military rulers who ran Nigeria from 1993 to 1997. Carrington openly backed Nigerian pro-democracy groups and criticized strongman Gen. Sani Abacha, often in sharper terms than U.S. officials tend to use.

Abacha's government, in turn, accused Carrington of collusion in unexplained bombings of military targets in Nigeria. In September 1997, as Carrington was ending his tour, police stormed a reception for him organized by Nigerian human rights activists. They ordered everyone out and threatened to shoot one person who resisted.

But then Abacha died. Recently Nigeria inaugurated a new, democratically elected civilian government headed by President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Carrington was invited to attend as a special government guest. Newspapers published laudatory articles about Carrington. Our man in Lagos, James Rupert, reports that ordinary Nigerians, like a hotel bartender, stopped Carrington as he was leaving the hotel one night and said, "Thank you, sir, for all those things you did for Nigeria during those days."

So now the street is named Carrington. It had been named for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. That was the military government's response when, in early 1998, New York City named a street corner for assassinated Nigeria dissident Kudirat Abiola.

New York State Of Mind

Long before first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton got serious about running for the Senate, it was clear that her carpetbagging status was going to be an issue. But some Clinton backers early on had checked into New York's history of voting for nonnative New Yorkers and calculated that, of the state's 57 senators since the Founding Fathers, more than one-third were not born there.

Way back in colonial times, of course, when Sen. Charles Dudley of Staffordshire, England, was in office and senators were not popularly elected, it would have been difficult to find native-born folks for such jobs.

But even in more recent days, in addition to the oft-talked-about 1964 election of Robert F. Kennedy, New Yorkers have been tolerant about voting for people born not only out-of-state but in foreign countries.

For example, former Sen. Robert Wagner was born in Germany. And the venerable cowboy himself, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who's giving up the seat Hillary Clinton is focusing on, was born in Tulsa, Okla.

Of course most nonnatives at least went to school in New York or lived there before running for office. On the other hand, Clinton has seen some Broadway shows.

The Unfiltered Truth

When President Clinton arrived in Washington in early 1993, he pledged to go over the heads of the media elite, to speak directly to the American people. This was part of the typical political whining about how reporters "distort" what the politicians say because they don't repeat verbatim the political spin -- meaning wholesale contradictions, gibberish, deceptions big and small, etc.

Clinton, using town meetings, wanted to have what some called the "talk show presidency." Well, it didn't exactly work for Clinton, but no matter. Now, the Republicans are exhorting their own to try similar maneuvers. We recently got an e-mail from Marnie Funk at the Republican National Committee about something called "RNC Talk Radio Rounds."

"To break through the Washington media filter, RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson has updated our radio studio to do `Radio Rounds' with members," Funk reported. "This vehicle allows us to reach millions of voters each morning -- and take our message straight to the American people."

The RNC will schedule radio interviews during morning-drive talk shows with local and national networks. "WHY?" Funk wrote. "The media elite inside the Beltway doesn't always give Republicans a fair shot to get their message to the American people. RNC Radio Services provides a no-cost way to smash though the media filter and talk directly with the American people."

Sure. A couple mornings on Imus or Howard Stern and the Republicans will come crawling, begging to be filtered.

Tips and comments for Al Kamen's column are welcomed at: In the Loop, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail at Loop@washpost.com. Please include home and work phone numbers.