Like sheepish college students after a boozy Saturday night, the scientists who recently named a prehistoric lizard after President Obama have an explanation. “We’re just having fun with taxonomy,” declared Yale paleontologist Nicholas R. Longrich, one of the researchers who discovered and named the foot-long species that disappeared in the same mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs 65.5 million years ago. One can easily imagine the scene: It was a long night at the library, they’d all declined a few too many Latin nouns, and the next morning there was a polyglyphanodontian named Obamadon gracilis. We’ve all been there.
But if the newly named lizard seems like a nerdy in-joke for scientists — there’s also a fish, Ethiostoma obama, and a lichen, Caloplaca obamae, named for the 44th president — it’s also probably an early warning to Obama’s conservative critics of what’s likely to come when he leaves office in 2017.
After the way Republicans rushed to honor Ronald Reagan after he left office in 1989, it’ll be no surprise if Democrats decide to return the favor with Obama — in much more public ways than naming a lizard. But maybe then a truce can take hold. It isn’t necessary to wait 65.5 million years to honor a president, but the idea of a dignified wait shouldn’t be consigned to extinction.