The double trochee is the conventional standard for presidential names: Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Warren Harding. The effect is heightened when the name is alliterative: Ronald Reagan, Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson -- Herbert Hoover to the contrary notwithstanding. Nota bene (AKA BTW): A trochee flips the metrical pattern of an iamb: it consists of an accented beat followed by an unaccented one. Think of it this way: "Oklahoma" is a double trochee. (Thank you, John Hollander.) Sing it. "Okla -homa, Okla-homa. We know we belong to the land, / and the land we belong to is grand" -- Oscar Hammerstein's revision of Robert Frost's vision of the land in "The Gift Outright," whose composition is contemporaneous with that of "Oklahoma!"
When the Republicans met last week, all anyone could talk about was the appearance of Clint Eastwood and the empty chair motif. There was a lot of noise, but what no analyst has yet pointed out is the strange fact that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the identical metrics in their names. Is this auspicious? Hardly. It suggests an incomplete verse -- an iamb in search of a strong beat -- just as "Joe Biden" does. Now if the latter would go under the moiniker "Joseph Biden" -- a double trochee -- he might have a fighting chance. But as it is he'll probably take it on the chin at the veep debate. (October update: the pundits opine that Joe Blowhard bested the choir boy with the widow's peak.) Not to mention that a study of the Biden family finances suggests a lot of debt and an incoherent financial strategy, although I would not sob too hard for the Bidens as his Senate pension added to his wife's will save them from the poorhouse, and in any case people don't vote for the vice-president, LBJ in Texas in 1960 notwithstanding, which is the second use of that strange word in this piece. From the metrical point of view, "Bill Clinton" is the exception that proves the rule, and 2012 is beginning to look a lot like 1996.
Barack Obama's name parses out as an iamb (Barack = unstressed foot after stressed) followed by an amphibrach (Obama = long syllable sandwiched between two short ones). This is a vey difficult combination to defeat especially in an incumbent when he is personally very popular and considered a nice guy. A month ago I was saying you could gauge how scared the Dems might be; hey'd simply dump Biden and run Hilary for his job. That seems an increasingly unlikely scenario if only because the president does not want to be upstaged by his veep, whom he doesn't really like, or likes to the extent of saying about her that she's "likable enough."
The New York Times is rooting for him like mad, which doesn't exactly help in the red states but gives you an idea of how passionately the blue states feel. The electorate may vote in a Repulican congress, but an Obama defeat? Forget about it. Personal popularity and exemplary comportment count for a lot at a time when a politico with national aspirations can impregnate an aide, deny his paternity, and pin it on another aide, while his wife, dying of cancer, campaigns for him. I still can't get over that.
You have to wonder what the future holds for Hillary Clinton. If, instead, you are wondering why the image of Franklin Roosevelt heads this piece, it is not only because last night we saw David Grubin's brilliant 1994 documentary FDR but because "Franklin Roosevelt" (trochee first, dactyl second) is metrically an exact inversion of "Hillary Clinton," thus creating a formidable chiasmus, and history loves a chiasmus, and you can look it up. And remember: when FDR won re-election in 1936, it was a landslide, and we had not yet endured the worst of the Depression.