- - Thursday, September 3, 2015

Barack Obama is skilled and creative in devising ways to get under the skin of his political opponents. (At negotiating deals with the nation’s enemies, not so much). His latest feat, to strip the name of a Republican president of yesteryear from a mountain in Alaska, and replace it with an Alaskan tribal name, may be too clever by half. Or at least a third.

He gets the pleasure of irritating Ohio, the home of President William McKinley, the 25th president whose name was put on the highest peak in the 50 states, and in particular the pleasure of needling House Speaker John Boehner, a proud son of Ohio. Congress put the McKinley name on the mountain in 1917, and the legislation was duly signed by President Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. Mr. Obama, with authority under the law, stripped the offending name with an executive order.

Mount McKinley, now Mount Denali, was meant to be a kind of permanent monument to a martyred president, who was shot by a left-wing radical while shaking hands with his constituents at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901. President McKinley, who never saw the mountain, was a popular and consequential president, the last Civil War veteran to occupy the office. His election in 1896 ushered in a period of Republican prosperity and dominance of the national government that lasted, with brief interruptions, until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. He presided over a period of prosperity and the growth of the United States as a world power, with a victory in the Spanish-American War, the first American war on foreign soil. The victory led to the liberation of Cuba and the Philippines.

President Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell say the new name on the mountain is what the people of Alaska want. Indeed, many Alaskans already call the mountain Denali in spite of what the maps say. So maybe all’s well that ends well, even if not necessarily in Ohio. Perhaps this new regard for what the people want augurs a new day in the administration now beginning a slow fade into history. The people in several states want to build the Keystone XL pipeline. The people in several states want to avoid the Obamacare state exchanges he insists will be good for them. The people may not want the Environmental Protection Agency’s destructive Clean Power Plan, which the EPA will impose if the reluctant states won’t.

Changing the name of Mount McKinley was meant as a reminder that Mr. Obama still has a telephone and a pen and he can use it no matter how small and insignificant the issue at hand may be. He is not irrelevant and he wants everybody to know it. But a lively and raucous presidential campaign of both Republicans and Democrats has pushed him out of the limelight, and he knows it. What president would like that?

Mr. Obama has his legacy, his widening of the gap between the races, and the result of his cultivation of anger and disorder is evident everywhere. The mountain, whether McKinley or Denali, will survive intact. The president himself must be prepared for disappointment later when his name is thought not grand enough for a mountain, nor even a mole hill. History has a talent for exacting revenge.

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