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Barack HIS-NAME Obama

7 years ago
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About a year ago, I read a post by an AOL blogger the premise of which was that the biggest reason Barack Obama would never be elected president was that his middle name connoted all the wrong things to the American public. At the time, I remember thinking, "Seriously? Americans can't be that short-sighted, can they?"

Well, a poll that's currently up in an AOL News story titled, "Obama Fights False Links to Islam," does not seem to portend well for Obama. Though a self-selecting sample if ever there was, as of this writing 47% of respondents seem to feel there's some truth to the many false rumors that stem, in no small part, from the associations the name "Hussein" seems to conjure for so many.

Indeed, every time you hear one of Obama's opponents speak his middle name, while refusing to do the same for any other candidate or national figure, you know that an assertion is being made. In the past week alone, we've had Bill Cunningham repeat "Hussein" ad nauseum on a stage in Ohio. Not one to rest on his laurels, he also managed to throw in some lynching metaphors for good measure. "At some point in the near future, the media is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama!" Oh that sneaky, concealing, colored bark! Let's strip it off.

The Tennessee Republican Party piled on with a crafty press release, since hastily removed from its website, which contained such thinly veiled warnings as:

The Tennessee Republican Party today joined a growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel, the only stable democracy in the Middle East, if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States.

You see, their message is clear. You can't trust a Muslim, especially not with the security of Israel in the balance. By definition, they're all anti-semites. Never mind the fact that the inferences themselves are repugnant in their reductive, racist claims, the leap-frog of faith required to swallow this turd is the belief that Obama isn't really a Christian. Doubt has seized hold. What's under that bark? He's a Manchurian candidate, a sleeper cell. These are all part and parcel with the mantra-like repetition of "Hussein."

Never has a middle name caused so much hand-wringing and unease. And yet, at the very same moment, what has actually happened? Obama has exceeded just about everyone's expectations in the Democratic contest. For a young and relatively inexperienced politician to come in and out-duel Hillary Clinton and her machine is an astonishing feat, whatever his or her middle name happens to be.

At the moment, the name question is at a crossroads of sorts. Even on the nights that Bill Cunningham isn't his guest, Sean Hannity likes to muse aloud about Obama's given names. "If his middle name is Hussein... What is wrong with people that bring up his middle name."

Maybe Karl Rove has finally caught on to what I'll call the Boy Named Sue aspect of this story. As in Shel Silverstein's ballad (made famous by Johnny Cash), the very name which seems to curse fate turns out to have been asset all along.

At a closed door meeting of GOP state executive directors in late January, Rove said the safest way to refer to Obama would be to use his honorific, "Sen. Obama."

"The context was, you're not going to stigmatized this guy. You shouldn't underestimate him," one of the executive directors said. Rove said the use of "Barack Hussein Obama" would perpetuate the notion that Republicans were bigoted and would hurt the party.

And if Politico's Ben Smith is right, maybe Obama himself doesn't mind so much if his middle name is invoked a few more times in the presidential race:

...most of the flaps ended the same way: with Obama forgiving the alleged offender. Sometimes he's accepted the apologies graciously, sometimes sternly, but always in line with his message. And that message of reconciliation--often explicitly racial reconciliation--is a central part of his campaign's appeal.

Lest you think this issue is going away anytime soon. Have a look at the comments this post will no doubt evoke. The logical fallacies that some employ against Obama are reminiscent of a famous Monty Python skit. Enjoy it here.

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