Should Barack Obama’s full name — Barack Hussein Obama — be used by people other than himself during the 2008 campaign? For months, a number of Obama’s detractors have been using it, but it wasn’t until syndicated radio talk show host Bill Cunningham used it several times when introducing Senator John McCain at a campaign event in Cincinnati that the proverbial you-know-what hit the fan. Cunningham also alluded to several major television news networks as being in the Clintons’ pockets. Upon making his entrance, McCain verbally spanked Cunningham for his remarks:
“Whatever suggestion that was made that was any way disparaging to the integrity, character, honesty of either Senator Obama or Senator Clinton was wrong,” he said. “I condemn it, and if I have any responsibility, I will take the responsibility, and I apologize for it.”
Is it really tasteless to use Obama’s name in full? I’ve seen varied responses to this question all over the blogosphere. Many liberals believe that those who use Obama’s middle name when referring to him are in fact using a racist and/or ethnic slur. And some conservatives, like McCain, believe using his middle name is a classless endeavor that will ultimately backfire.
Then there are those, like John Hawkins of Right Wing News, who like to use Obama’s full moniker “every so often solely because liberals freak out about it so much.”
No, Obama’s not president yet — just a candidate — but using a president’s middle name is not unheard of. The following is just a partial list of past presidents who were often referred to by their full names: John Quincy Adams (to distinguish him from father John Adams), William Henry Harrison, William Howard Taft, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and William Jefferson Clinton. Of course, these middle names don’t have the same ring to them as one that was coincidentally shared by an evil, murderous tyrant who is (fortunately) no longer with us. But it is part of Obama’s given name, not a made-up addition.
What also isn’t new is making fun of politicians’ names in a derogatory fashion. Here are just a few recent examples: John McLame, John François Kerry, Shrillary Rotten Clinton, Billy Jeff Clinton, Arlen Sphincter, Chris Dudd, Bob Dull, and Nancy Pelousy. I’m sure there are plenty more that can be added to the list. When you enter public life, it’s simply one of the crosses you have to bear, along with unflattering photos and cartoons making the rounds.
Interestingly, Obama went by the nickname Barry when he was in high school. Some question why he would have “Anglicized” his name, but it’s not really all that hard to figure out. Unusual names stick out, and since most kids want to do what they can to “fit in,” I imagine that’s why he did so.
When I was in elementary school, there was a girl in my grade whose name was Huong. Huong was one of the many children from Vietnam adopted by American families in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unfortunately for her, that was the time when a particular Saturday morning cartoon was popular and kids, being who they are, often taunted her by calling her Hong Kong Phooey. Eventually she legally changed her name to Pauline, putting an end to the name-calling. I wonder what she’s doing today — and if she ever changed her name back.
No, it wasn’t nice. But then, life isn’t always a bowl of cherries.
Here’s a question for you: How many liberals who decry the use of Obama’s middle name in political discourse have a problem with the popularity amongst their fellow travelers of referring to President Bush as Hitler? Obama’s middle name is an accident of fate — but referring to President Bush as a murderous dictator who thought nothing of killing Jews, political dissidents, and the mentally and physically handicapped in his quest for world power is not.
I do take opposition to the argument that using Obama’s middle name, Hussein, is racist, since Muslims — and we know that’s what’s being referred to here — do not comprise a race, just as Christians do not comprise a race. Yet if one is so inclined to use that argument, should we not refer to Obama by name at all? It’s not like his name is James Hussein Smith. Should we simply call him B.O.? That’s not exactly complimentary either.
All’s fair in love, war, and politics. While it would be nice if we could focus strictly on the issues, we know that it has never been that way and it never will be. Human nature simply won’t allow for it. Sarcasm, satire, and biting humor are all part of the political game. Obama himself must surely know that and accept it — otherwise, why would he have gotten into the race at all? Politicians, even the best of them, all have unusually large egos, and that is likely what gets them through the onslaught of insults with their self-esteem intact.
In the end, the use of political caricatures — verbal, pictorial, and otherwise — is deeply ingrained in the American consciousness. Sometimes the caricatures do damage; other times they do not. Politicians are supposed to be big boys and girls who can take the heat. If they can’t, they have no business being in the kitchen.
Those who want to refer to Barack Hussein Obama have every right to, just as those who object have every right to voice their objections, thanks to our First Amendment. It’s all part of the great American experiment that continues to unfold each and every day.