Barack Hussein Obama: What’s in a Name?
There is a troubling hint of something very un-American about the American president. I am not alluding to the birther controversy but rather to something in the president’s character, attitudes, personal aura, and worldview. He could just as well have been born in Podunk or Dogpatch and yet an un-American flavor would still cling about him. A little while back I tried a thought experiment with an American friend still partly dazzled by the president’s populist dexterity and acclaim. I asked him to recite the names of a dozen presidents at random, ending with POTUS 43. He proceeded: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Bush. I then asked him to pause for a moment and repeat the full name of the current occupant of the White House. He waited a moment and said: Barack Hussein Obama. A longish silence ensued and then he said, as if struck by recognition, “I see what you mean.”
Of course, there is nothing wrong with a flamboyant name and much to recommend it. A striking moniker can add a chromatic and ebullient element to the habitual, a dash of playfulness, a spirit of diversity. Nomenclature can be fun. Our athletes, after all, have practically cornered the market on appellate extravagance: Shomari Williams, Tearrius George, Ken-Yon Rambo, Marc-Olivier Brouillette, Na’Shan Goddard, LeBron James, Chip Cox, Dontrelle Inman, Jabar Westerman, Swayze Waters, Prince Amukamara, Jade Etienne -- to name just a dozen. But in the context of presidential history and political expectation, “Barack Hussein Obama” remains glaringly idiosyncratic in the calendar of historically resonant names, exemplifying something scalene about the man as an American politician and leader, his conspicuous outrider status in the almanac of legacy assumptions. This is precisely what startled my interlocutor when he performed our little thought experiment. He perceived a basic asymmetry between the name and the office -- in other words, to make the obvious transposition, between the man and the office.
Needless to say, liberals will seize upon the suspicion of implicit bigotry or “racism” in such a nominal exercise, but I can assure them that Obama’s lack of fit with the American presidency has nothing to do with origins or skin color, as Leftists will predictably clamor. As far as ancestry is concerned, his name could be Solomon Greenberg or Chjeng Huanyu -- or Bobby Jindal -- without being negatively emblematic or disturbing in the slightest. When it comes to pigmentation, the same applies. “Obama is sui generis in American presidents,” writes Jean Kaufman, “and I’m not referring to the fact that he’s the first black president.” Martin Luther King Jr. is undoubtedly a fine name for a president of the United States. Thomas Sowell fits perfectly. Herman Cain is good, too. More to the point, all would have likely made decent chief executives.
Drawing attention to the president’s name is both racially and lineally irrelevant. But given its Islamic tinnitus and its flourish of decided otherness, the name functions as a symbol, that is, an allegory of synoptic dislocation, a token of visceral difference. It signifies something bizarre, something nomadic, extraterritorial, and domestically ineffable, something unusual in the roster of commanders-in-chief. For columnist Ben Shapiro, Obama is a “lightweight,” a “joke,” and a “Hollywood president,” a man who prefers appearing on The View and with the Pimp with a Limp to dealing with affairs of state, and who tweets pics of himself standing beside a cardboard cutout captioned “You look familiar.” But the implications are far more serious. The fact is that Obama is not a president in the authentic sense of the term; he is a glittering name acting the role of president, and in this sense Shapiro is right, he is a “Hollywood president,” a man with marquee presence and Stanislavski moves. Similarly, Rush Limbaugh calls the president Barack Kardashian, connoting the man’s celebrity allure and endemic shallowness. Some actors, however, few as they may be, do have a core personality, intellectual marrow, and moral substance. Obama does not, being in effect a mobile simulacrum of a cardboard cutout, which makes him as president of the United States not merely a joke and a lightweight but a disaster and a tragedy.
His acolytes, naturally, see the man by no means as a sort of ideological wyvern or the product of a politically ectopic gestation, or as in any way extraneous or aberrant, but as a Promethean hero intent on breaking the shackles of the past. However, regarded not as a radiant departure from hidebound tradition, as we have been urged to believe, but as an invitation to think twice about the substance of the man, the name should be considered as cognate with the person. They go together in more ways than one. As David Goldman writes, “Obama is an alien intrusion into American political life, a Third World anthropologist profiling us.” He is profoundly out of synch with the main thrust of American values and traditions. America is made up of people of all the races on earth, any one of whom ideally might be president, but Obama exemplifies a fundamental cultural difference that is incompatible with the American essence -- at least such as it was before welfare liberalism began its surreptitious advance. His fundamental disparity from the vast majority of U.S. presidents in his orientation to America as an idea, and in his philosophical understanding of what America has been, is now, and should be in the future, is blatant. As Charles Kesler observes in his recent book I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism, Obama embraces “tortuous doubts about American exceptionalism” and “seems to lack both the citizen’s pride and the immigrant’s gratitude.”
Contrary to the media portrayal of his Yankee bona fides and his penetrating intelligence, Obama’s knowledge of America and the world is alarmingly superficial. He may enjoy an ornithological interest in Sesame Street, but such erudition scarcely qualifies as presidential. As Victor Davis Hanson observes, he is a man for whom “Austrians speak Austrian, Hawaii is in Asia, Afghans speak Arabic, the Maldives lie off Argentina, there are seven additional states, servicemen are zombie corpse-men, and Kansas twisters kill 10,000 at a time.” But it is worse than that, for Barack Hussein Obama, with his still occluded or disputed origins, his hermetically sealed records, his Alinskyite training, his Indonesian youth, his diehard, America-hating, Leftist mentors like Frank Marshall Davis, Bill Ayers, and Jeremiah Wright, his determination to “fundamentally transform” America, his “You didn’t build that” philosophy, his persistent blaming of others for the failures of his administration, his penchant for frivolities like late-night talk shows, his emphasis on racial and class divisions rather than national unity, his palpably willing reliance on the Democrat vote-fraud machine (even the liberal Pew Charitable Trusts estimates many millions of invalid, illegal, or inaccurate voter registrations which Obama’s DOJ is determined to keep in place, patently serving the president’s electoral prospects), his campaign to water down key components of the American Constitution, including, as some fear, the gradual abridgment of the First Amendment, and his clear partiality for the culture of Islam, which his fawning and historically inaccurate Cairo speech and subsequent actions and friendships, as noted below, render unmistakable -- this man simply does not belong in the grand tradition of American republicanism and American public comportment.
Former Muslim Nonie Darwish, author of the new book The Devil We Don’t Know: The Dark Side of Revolutions in the Middle East and president of FormerMuslimsUnited.org, is of the same mind. “For 4 years the Obama policy was not on the side of America as it should have been,” she writes. “Unlike any American president, Obama spoke softly to enemies of America while holding a stick to the American people” (italics mine). “Obama’s legacy,” she continues, “will be empowering radical Islam, both in the Middle East and inside America, at the expense of freedom of speech and American power.” She elaborates her thesis in a subsequent article dealing with the Benghazi fiasco: “we have an American president who refuses to make the American people the number one recipient of his empathy…to me, an American born and raised in Egypt, I see many similarities between Obama and Arab leaders I grew up with.” Then comes the clincher: “Obama would be best described as the first Arab president.”
Plainly, the relationship between the White House and the American public should be more or less symbiotic rather than intrinsically predatory or discrepant. Darwish and Goldman are correct. There is something foreign and incongruous about Obama, as if he were not simply an exotic departure from business as usual, but a political trespasser poaching on another’s cultural property, a stark deviation from the norm.
It is noteworthy that 68% of his campaign donations consist of illegal foreign traffic -- the campaign is being fed largely from elsewhere, from other individuals, institutions, cultures, and nations with a stake in the American election. Obama represents not a continuation of American history and political life but a menace to its integrity and endurance. Goldman’s conclusion is chilling: “He has done more to undermine America’s standing in the world than any president in history, and the consequences of his re-election are horrible to mention.” Or in the words of economics specialist Monty Pelerin, the country is at an “inflection point” where it will be determined “whether we continue to veer off-course or return to a conventional path.” Obama may be a Marxist interloper, an oleaginous egoist, a closet Muslim, or an incompetent ideologue, but most of all, as Pelerin writes, he “represents an existential threat to the way of life of the American people.” When Obama in a 2008 speech referred to himself as someone who would be a “different kind of president,” many did not realize the irony inherent in his act of self-promotion, for he proved indeed to be a different kind of president, that is, a president different in kind from any of his predecessors.
In his recent pamphlet The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration, founder of the American Center for Security Policy Frank Gaffney shows just how estranged Obama is from the political mainstream of American society. Gaffney documents in precise and vivid detail the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on the formulation of American policy, charting Obama’s ties to Islamists, Brotherhood sympathizers, and pro-Sharia proponents. We meet Rashad Hussain, now deputy associate White House counsel, who has encouraged “efforts to ‘bridge the differences’ between the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s efforts to prohibit and criminalize expression that ‘defames’ Islam”; Dalia Mogahed, appointed to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership, who is involved with a host of jihadist organizations; Mohamed Magid, perhaps the most prominent imam and “one of the most important Muslim Brotherhood operatives in the United States, [who] is deep inside the wire of the United States government, helping shape national policy on radical Islam” and engineering “a complete ban on FBI training materials that link Islam to violence in any way”; and of course, Huma Abedin, with extensive affiliations to the Muslim Brotherhood, who is closely associated with the office of the secretary of State.
It is indisputable, Gaffney concludes, “that under President Obama the United States has adopted policies increasingly aligned with the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist organizations,” whose declared purpose is the destruction of America and Western civilization. This initiative is evident from an MB document titled An Explanatory Memorandum: On the General Strategic Goal for the Group in North America, seized by the FBI in 2004, promoting, in the words of the text, a “grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within, and sabotaging its miserable house.” This manual was mysteriously scrubbed from the Dallas Morning News where it first appeared and is no longer available at Dallas.com or in the ProQuest library database, but it beggars belief to assume that Barack Hussein Obama is not aware of its existence or its contents. “You have a president of the United States,” says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, “who will not be honest with himself about the problem of radical Islam.” I suspect, on the contrary, that it may be not so much a problem of self-deception as of furtive intent.
The name which calls attention to the president’s otherness, as we know, is of Kenyan origin, and it is still being exploited as political capital in that country. Does the name, one wonders, suggest an ideological homology? Obama’s policies, while justly regarded, as Kesler points out, as extensions of the creeping socialism of Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Lyndon Johnson, eerily resemble those of his Kenyan relatives, Sarah Obama, Sayed Hussein Obama (the president’s favorite uncle), and Musa Ismail Obama who, as reported by former terrorist and author of For God or For Tyranny Walid Shoebat, are busy promoting the study of sharia and attempting to “transform Kenya to an Islamic majority.” Obama has admittedly not gone that far, but he has inflated the number of Muslims living in the U.S. from 2.5 million to seven million and has erroneously pronounced that “[S]ince our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States." We recall Obama’s promise to “stand with them [Muslims] should the political winds shift in an ugly direction,” his UN speech in which he insisted that “the future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” and his 2006 visit to Kenya in support of the presidential campaign of the infamous Raila Odinga, a ruthless tyrant whose slogan was “your agent for change” and who is prone to blaming others for his party’s failures. (According to the BBC, Odinga claims Obama as a first cousin.) We should eschew guilt by association, but the echoes resound. Obama may be an American by birth but he is an expatriate by training, lineage, disposition, and sentiment, as well as by cognomen.
The bottom line is that an Obama by any other name would smell as foul. The president’s name, however, is a dead giveaway. It has a multicultural chime but not a presidential one. It may register as glamorous or romantic, a harbinger of the novel or the harmlessly picturesque, and it certainly possesses greater panache than “Barry Soetoro.” But argue it as one will, “Barack Hussein Obama” is not a name we associate with that of an American president. On the contrary, it simply doesn’t belong. The signal issue, however, is that the name betokens the man himself, a peregrine intrusion into a customary political landscape that augurs poorly for the American future.
It’s all in the name.