President Obama has schools, roads, highways, youth centers, and other buildings across the country already named after him.
But there is virtually nothing named after him in his home state of Hawaii.
It’s not that they don’t like him — even though whenever he comes home traffic snarls and the inconvenience of extraordinarily tight security bothers everyone. Rather, there are several factors that have prevented Hawaiians from honoring the president.
The reasons for the failures in Hawaii are many and varied. Locals, protective of their Polynesian culture, in some cases have balked at abandoning traditional Hawaiian names for places. “People here believe that land has spirit and feeling,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “It’s not just dirt.”
Cost has torpedoed at least one attempt. In other instances, critics have complained that naming efforts are premature as long as Obama is still in office, still so young and still among the living. Local laws prohibit politicians from naming parks or public buildings after people until they have devoted at least 50 years of service to the community or are dead.
“Because he’s still president, it felt a little goofy and opportunistic for people to run around trying to honor him as if his public service was already complete,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
Sometimes, as in the case of Sandy Beach, it’s hard to identify a single point of failure. A few opponents of Chang’s effort simply liked the old name. Others fretted that naming Sandy Beach after Obama might actually be dangerous. The beach boasts big waves, and a notoriously shallow shore break led to 16 severe spinal cord injuries between 2009 and 2013.
“A lot of people break their necks there,” Chang said. “There was a worry that tourists who are not experienced body surfers would be drawn to it because it was Obama’s favorite place.” Sensing the mounting opposition to his proposal, Chang pulled it.
The long, fruitless struggle to stick Obama’s name on something more substantial than a snow cone hints at an even bigger question: How will Hawaii’s first president will be remembered in his home state when he leaves office?
Obama, who passed on the state’s $75 million offer to host his presidential library in favor of Chicago, regularly cites the island as the source of his steady temperament.
“I feel like it fortified me. There’s a certain element of chill,” he said of his Hawaiian upbringing earlier this year. “You got a little Hawaii in the mind.”
Hawaiians are rightly proud of their Polynesian heritage and many islanders bristle when the delicate subject of naming places comes up. The way they figure it, all of the landmarks on the islands already had names after the arrival of the Polynesians nearly 2,000 years ago.
It’s more likely that, in the future, buildings will be named after Obama rather than beaches or other natural landmarks. Perhaps someone will propose naming an outhouse after the president as a reflection on the policies he followed and lack of leadership he demonstrated.