Thursday, July 31, 2008

Easy On "Legacy," and "Icon"

But this election is still about Bush and the legacy of the past eight years in significant ways” – Connecticut Local Politics.

c.1375, "body of persons sent on a mission," from O.Fr. legacie "legate's office," from M.L. legatia, from L. legatus "ambassador, envoy," noun use of pp. of legare "appoint by a last will, send as a legate" (see legate). Sense of "property left by will" appeared in Scot. c.1460.

1340, "property of the Church," also "spiritual legacy of Christ," from O.Fr. patrimonie (12c.), from L. patrimonium "a paternal estate, inheritance," from pater (gen. patris) "father" + -monium, suffix signifying action, state, condition. Meaning "property inherited from a father or ancestors" is attested from 1377. Fig. sense of "immaterial things handed down from the past" is from 1581. A curious sense contrast to matrimony

It’s a little premature to talk of the “legacy” of President Bush. We have only just now fully exposed the legacy of President Teddy Roosevelt.

The current president and both presidential candidates, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, look to the hero of San Juan Hill for inspiration, even though Mark Twain thought he was a puffed toad.

So solid a legacy as that of Abe Lincoln, thought by some to be solar center of American politics around which lesser political lights move, is still under discussion. Some historians think "Honest Abe" was a wily politician who abused the Constitution. Certainly U.S. Sen. Chris would have vigorously opposed Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War.

When people talk about a contemporary “legacy” what they really mean is the sum of current opinion about a contemporary figure. Agreed, those who fashion contemporary opinion hold Bush in disrepute. The president’s “legacy” in Iran, at the New York Times or, closer to home, at the Hartford Courant and MyLeftNutmeg, a leftist blog site, has suffered some buffeting. Bush turns out to have been a spendthrift, but he could not have run through all that cash without the aid of the U.S. Congress, which has for the past few years been controlled by spendthrift Democrats. The favorability ratings of both Bush and the Congress are at rock bottom, Congress having dipped below single digits, possibly for this reason. The war in Iraq has taken a turn for the better according to Obama, just now returned from a triumphal tour of Europe. So, cautiously we should leave legacies to the tender mercy of historians and rejoice that, while all of us are poorer, Iraq has withstood the assaults of al-Qaeda, the U.S Congress and the New York Times.

In the meantime, could we have a respite from the word “legacy?”

And might we not also use more prudently the word “icon?”

This is an icon:

This is not an icon:

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