I begin with Charles C. Boycott, a one-time British soldier who in the fall of 1880 stood fast against the Irish and their incessant demands for fair and humane treatment. For refusing to lower his rents, he was deprived of all services, including mail delivery. In this way, Boycott gave his name to the English language. He will be remembered as long as anyone gets the cold shoulder.
If I have my way, something similar will happen to the name of Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton administration's choice for the United Nations. For over a year now, Holbrooke has been swatting away pesky questions relating to his ethics -- all of which were answered satisfactorily and which only cost him, at my estimation, $6.2 million in legal fees. The actual figure is somewhat less, but you get the point.
Now that those questions are behind him and he has been approved in committee, at least three senators have put his nomination on hold. That is sort of like a hex, or the evil eye or something like that. It is always done in secret, and it means that until the hold is lifted (I think an animal sacrifice is required) the Senate cannot vote on the nomination.
The first senator to admit to a Holbrooke hold was Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). He said he did not like the way the State Department was treating one of its whistle-blowers. Two other senators, Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell, put holds on Holbrooke because they want someone you never heard of named to a commission you probably never heard of either. The man's name is Bradley A. Smith, and he is supremely unqualified for the job.
You may ask what has all this got to do with Holbrooke, and the answer, I assure you, is nothing. It is totally unrelated. There is yet a fourth, related, hold on Holbrooke, but it involves a procedural matter and will not be considered here. The others, though, are in conformity with the ancient Senate tradition of nanny-nanny-boo-boo -- although, I'm sure, it's officially known as something else.
By now, you have undoubtedly discerned what it means to be Holbrooked. This is not like being a scapegoat, because Holbrooke is not being blamed for anything. No one is even framing him. He is totally extraneous to the process. His only value is that he is valued for something else.
My research shows that many people have had things named for them. From that tightwad Etienne de Silhouette we get silhouette, a reference at first to his cheapness. From Michel Begon, we get begonia. Pierre Magnol gave us the magnolia. James Watt gave us the watt, Joel Poinsett the poinsettia, Jules Leotard the leotard, and Nicolas Chauvin, another Frenchman (why are so many of them French?), was so devoted to Napoleon, that we have the word "chauvinism" as a result. Better that than sadism (the Marquis de . . .) any day.
But few men in all of history have lent their name to a process. We have Elbridge Gerry, whose redrawing of a map of voting districts has given us "gerrymandering," and I suppose, we can throw in Freud as well.
But to be Holbrooked is, somehow, different. For one thing, "Put the Hold on Holbrooke" sounds like a '40s novelty song. For another, it could only happen in the U.S. Senate, where -- both unashamedly and, of course, in secret -- the government is deprived of the services of someone it sorely needs for reasons that have nothing to do with him. Things have gotten to the point where I can imagine some senator leaning across the dinner table at his teenage daughter and saying, "If you don't do your homework, I'm going to put a hold on Holbrooke." She would, of course, burst into tears and bolt from the table.
Jesse Ventura, once a wrestler and now the governor of Minnesota, thinks Lowell Weicker, once a Connecticut senator and now a gentleman farmer, ought to run for president on his Reform Party ticket. The idea sounds crazy until you take a look at the holds on Holbrooke. Then you can appreciate the American people's level of frustration with their political system and the self-serving ways of Washington.
A simple nomination to a key post -- U.N. ambassador -- has been held up for more than a year now for reasons that have gone from the obscure to the absurd. Lott, for one, won't even acknowledge that he put a hold on Holbrooke.
The whole thing might be considered Kafkaesque. But if Kafka were alive today, I bet he would not have "Joseph K." killed.
Instead, he would have him Holbrooked.