Could we build Mt. Rushmore today?

This was a question that I put out to a number of my friends and contacts last week, on Twitter and across a couple of e-mail lists. Imagine for a moment that Mt. Rushmore had never been built and the mountain still stood today as a natural rock outcrop. Could we come together as a nation and build such a monument in 2012? There are a number of questions to be wrestled to the ground on this one. Who would pay for it and how? Who would oppose it and why? And – perhaps most contentious of all – which faces would adorn it?

I received a number of interesting responses. One of the more surprising ones came from John Hawkins at Right Wing News, who opined that we couldn’t, but with a rather unexpected twist. His take was that environmentalists would block any such construction under the guise of protecting the environment. (Presumably the yellow necked sand tit would lose half of its nesting grounds. Or something.)

A less popular opinion came on the spending front. One liberal correspondent (who shall remain nameless) claimed that the Tea Party would block the project if there were any tax dollars involved in funding it. (The actual monument was, in fact, bankrolled with federal funding and the National Park Service took over management before it was even finished.)

The majority opinion was that everyone would pay lip service to the need for this type of memorial, but an immediate battle would break out over which presidents to enshrine on such a monument today. Leaving the monument “as is” with some faces from before the modern era of political schisms might be palatable to a majority, but would there be a rush to put some slightly more modern faces up there? And if so… who?

Reagan is the easy answer for conservatives. I suppose the Democrats would push for Kennedy as an easy out, though there would doubtless be a short lived push for Obama as the historic, first black president, etc. (Hey… he got a Nobel, didn’t he?) Does anyone else in the post Teddy Roosevelt era stand out enough to bump one of the current figures off the top of the hill? Or perhaps a 19th century POTUS who was overlooked before?

I might make a case for Ike, though even I would be pushing it with fairly faint praise compared to the current denizens. So, the question for your consideration this weekend is put forward. Could we do it? If not… why not? And if so, who should be there if we were to start the project from square one today?