It’s a sunny afternoon in Chicago. Your future looks bright. You’ve graduated from Lincoln Tech so you’ve purchased a Lincoln Continental and insured it with Lincoln Auto Insurance. Your license plate says Land of Lincoln.
You drive north on Lincoln Avenue through the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It’s time for lunch. Up ahead is the Lincoln Restaurant. Its sign, like the pennies in your pocket, features the famous profile bust of Lincoln.
But you crave ethnic food so you proceed through the Lincoln Square neighborhood until you see the Lincoln Noodle House. You park and go inside. Lunch is grand. Life is sweet!
Next you plan to stop at the Lincoln Liquor Store. But as you return to your car you see you are about to be towed by the notorious Lincoln Towing Service. In a fit of rage you pull out your gun and threaten to shoot the tow truck driver. A scuffle ensues. The gun goes off. You are shot. You die. Your family calls Lincoln Funeral Care to arrange your funeral. Your funeral is held at the Lincoln Methodist Church.
And the moral of the story is, even after all these years, Abe Lincoln is still hot shit in Chicago.
In the Chicago White Pages, there are 272 businesses with Lincoln in their name. They include banks and mortgage companies, a karaoke bar, an antique mall, a bowling alley, a preschool, a driving school, a chiropractor and a gynecologist.
So it seems that in the end, the ultimate way for history to judge the legacy of presidents is by assessing their ability to attract commercial endorsement. How do we determine the degree to which a given president's judgment, integrity, courage, leadership ability and strength of character impacted generations of Americans? Well, how much of all the stuff that’s named after Lincoln could ever be named after them?
Some presidents are like Tiger Woods. They’ve screwed themselves so bad that no self-respecting business wants anything to do with them. Like who the hell would name their business after Richard Nixon? Richard Nixon Savings and Loan? Richard Nixon Insurance? (The name you can trust!) The Richard Nixon Methodist Church? I suppose there could be a Richard Nixon Towing Service, since it’s one of the few businesses where it might be advantageous to have a name that scares the hell out of everyone. A company that makes paper shredders could probably name itself after Nixon too. But that's about it.
George W. Bush? Do you think there will ever be an institute of higher learning, like Lincoln Tech, named after George W. Bush? Will Texas license plates ever say Land of Bush? (I take that back. They probably will.)
Some presidents have screwed themselves out of commercial endorsements not because they were evil and/or incompetent but, even worse, because they were bland and boring. There will never be a luxury car called the Millard Fillmore Continental. Who would put dining at the Martin Van Buren Restaurant on their bucket list?
Some presidents have screwed themselves in some ways, but not in others. There probably could be a Bill Clinton bowling alley or driving school. But no sane person would ever make an appointment with the Bill Clinton gynecologists.
A few blocks from where I live, there was a hair salon named Ossama’s. Even after September 11, they didn’t change their name. Election night 2008 was a freakishly warm November night in Chicago. People cheered in the streets as if our team had won the championship.
Shortly after that, Ossama’s changed their name. They changed it to Obama’s.
And now, they’re out of business.