October 12, 2009

Sailing Away

Simple political cost-benefit analysis makes it a strong bet that Columbus Day will get a makeover in the next ten years. In the coming decade, as the government starts betraying its financial promises, empty gestures of sensitivity will be all the rage as politicians scurry to appear useful. In light of this, a safe target like Columbus Day will be just too tempting. 

How will the Columbus Day airbrushing be handled? My money is on these two approaches:

1) Dilute Columbus?s status by incorporating other figures into the occasion, i.e., change Columbus Day to something like Lee-Jackson-King Day. Who might be picked to hyphenate Columbus? Cesar Chavez comes to mind, since his inclusion would play well in the Southwest and afford politicians a chance to publicly practice their overpronunciation skills.

Another candidate is Sitting Bull. Namedropping him makes it easier to assuage pro-Columbus holdouts by saying, ?We?re not really changing anything. America?s roots are what Columbus Day was all about.? Bringing Sitting Bull off the icon bench is also a clever way of demoting Columbus without having to make any messy new fiscal concessions. IHS hospitals are already government-run fiascos, so there would be no need to nationalize them ?in Sitting Bull?s name.?

2) Convert it to a generic, themed holiday built around the anodyne theme of discovery, complete with a daring and creative name like?Discovery Day. This sidesteps the awkwardness of pinning specific names to the occasion, while giving officials a platform to highlight more politically correct adventurers like Amelia Earhart.

Given that option one would trigger the same problems as Lee-Jackson-King Day, I see the Discovery Day approach as more likely.

If Columbus and his journey remain in the picture at all, the narrative will be retrofitted to reflect some newfound thread of inclusiveness. Sure, school kids will still draw pictures of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, only now they?ll have to color one ship white, one brown, and one yellow to celebrate all the colors of the human rainbow. We might even learn that Columbus wanted to sail to Asia so he could experience more diversity.

In either scenario, Christopher Columbus will exit the public stage as a red-headed stepchild. Poetic, since Columbus possibly belonged to the most blighted tribe of all; the Ginger.

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