Reagan on the $50 Bill?

News from North Carolina: Rep. Patrick McHenry ® has introduced a bill to direct the Treasury to replace U.S. Grant’s portrait on the $50 bill with Ronald Reagan’s visage. He is reported to have said, “every generation needs its own heroes.”

I won’t go into the pros and cons of President Reagan, nor the expense it takes to print new money designs, or how European it is to vary the portraiture on paper currency.

Instead, I do find Rep. McHenry’s comment suggestive. Our parks, bridges, traffic circles, currency and schools–among other things–get named by people who, at the time when naming occurs, venerate (or not) certain historical figures over others. For example, if a choice was to be made today for the portrait on the $20 bill, I highly doubt Andrew Jackson would even be a finalist. Jackson–scourge of both the Cherokee and the National Bank–seems to have replaced Grover Cleveland (who now graces the $1,000 bill) there in 1928. Or consider, if you live or work in D.C., the naming of Dupont Circle, a lovely, fountain-centered park in the busy downtown section of the city. If it were to be named today, would a 19th-century admiral be a contender for the name? Hardly.

So, it’s no surprise that Rep, McHenry and others have called for rebranding what is essentially a public space–a unit of currency. Ronald Reagan is as venerated by a large swath of the U.S. population as is Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, some have called to add Reagan to the dime, or at least to half of them.

It remains to be seen whether McHenry’s legislation will gain any traction at a time when Congress is focused on so many other pressing issues. One hardly thinks the portrait on the money matters at all. But commemoration, as we all know, is at the same time historical and political.

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