I've lived through a lot of interesting elections but never one more interesting than the one we just had that will put Barack Obama in the White House.
I am sometimes irritated by our loud-mouthed insistence that we're the greatest nation in the world because there are a lot of great nations. However, the fact that the citizens of this country, the majority of whom are white, freely chose to elect a black man as their leader simply because they thought he was the best choice, makes me think Americans have great reason to be proud of themselves. They didn't elect Barack Obama to be their next president because he's black, or in spite of the fact that he's black. They elected Obama because they liked him and thought he'd do the best job as president. Pretty good thinking.
One of the most interesting things about this election is the winner's name: Barack Obama. Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, Ronald Reagan it isn't. If his name had been something usual like Tom Wilson or Bill Smith, this contest might not have been anywhere near as interesting.
It will be another 25 or 50 years before we know, but I wonder if his name and likeness will ever appear on any of our coins or paper money. Will we ever have a "Barack Obama Nickel" or a "Barack Obama Five-Dollar Bill"? That's unlikely because Abraham Lincoln is already on our five, and Obama has a long way to go before he reaches the stature of Abe Lincoln in the public's estimation. (I was going to write down the names of all 43 American presidents and see if I could decide where I think Obama would stand 50 years from now on the list for his well-knownness. He might be ahead of Coolidge and Hoover but behind both Roosevelts.)
The presidents who have been accorded the honor of having their images appear on our paper money have been Washington on the $1 bill, Thomas Jefferson on the $2 bill, Abraham Lincoln on the $5 bill, Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and U.S. Grant on the $50 bill. In the past, William McKinley was on the $500 bill, Grover Cleveland on the $1,000 bill, James Madison on the $5,000 bill and Woodrow Wilson on the $100,000 bill. How would you like to find a $100,000 bill in your pocket that someone gave you by mistake?
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced 4,147,200,000 $1 bills last year. They only printed 230,000,000 $2 bills in 2006, and for some reason we don't have any other bills until we get to $5. I like 50-cent pieces, but you almost never come across one of those anymore. A 50-cent piece in your pocket makes you feel rich. Pennies are a waste of time and I think it's time to get rid of them. The idea of all the things that cost $1.99 or $5.99 is ridiculous.
The only non-presidents who ever got their pictures on our currency were Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill, Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill and Simon P. Chase on the $10,000 bill. I forget why Ben Franklin never got to be president. Maybe he was smart enough not to want such a hard job. He's probably the most outstanding American public figure who didn't make it.
It's a great honor I suppose, but having my picture on a coin or a piece of paper money is an honor I think I could do without. I wonder if a president could ask the U.S. Mint or the Bureau of Engraving and Printing not to do that to him. Imagine having your picture rattling around in millions of pockets and pocketbooks. The thought is stomach-turning.
I think we may have used up all our picture opportunities on our bills too soon and now we're short of bills to put our heroes on. What will we do for our great figures in the next 100 years? Maybe we'll have to start making $3 or $15 bills.
• E-mail Andy Rooney at firstname.lastname@example.org.