Friday, February 29, 2008

What's in a name ? Michael Patrick Leahy on Barack Hussein Obama

When conservative radio talk show host Bill Cunningham referred to Democractic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama as "Barack HUSSEIN Obama ..... Barack HUSSEIN Obama ....... Barack HUSSEIN Obama" at a recent John McCain rally the political correctness police went crazy.

Candidate McCain felt compelled to disavow Cunningham's implied criticism of Obama's Muslim heritage, and talking heads across the land felt compelled to condemn Cunningham.

What exactly was Cunningham's sin ?

He loudly emphasized Obama's given middle name, "Hussein", which, of course conjures up images of the deposed and deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and innumerable Muslims--peace lovers and terrorists alike-- who share the same name.

Cunningham himself acknowledged that his entire speech was designed to give the gathered McCain supporters "red meat", but the question is this:

Was it out of bounds to use Obama's middle name in this way ?

My response is probably not.

It is, after all, Senator Obama's given middle name, and it does tell us something about him.

Indeed, there is a long tradition in American politics of Presidential candidates using their middle names.

John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, started it all off in 1824, inserting Quincy to distinguish himself from his father, John Adams, our second president.

He was followed by the barely memorable President William Henry Harrison, whose only notable contribution to the American Presidential tradition was the memorable political slogan from the 1840 campaign of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too !".

Fast forward to the Presidential election of 1932, which ushered in the era of 3 initial Presidents --

Franklin Delano Roosevelt ("FDR"), who was followed in 1960 by John Fitzgerald Kennedy ("JFK"), and in 1964 by Lyndon Baines Johnson ("LBJ")

Each of these candidates used their middle names as part of their political image.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for instance, inserted his middle name, Delano, to tell the voters of New York that he came from a long established New York family (his mother was a Delano).

John Fitzgerald Kennedy inserted his middle name Fitzgerald to tell the voters of Boston that he was the grandson of the famous mayor of Boston "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald.

Lyndon Baines Johnson insisted on both the use of his middle name and the "LBJ" three letter label to tell the voters of Texas that he was the young adherent of the policies of FDR. "A vote for LBJ is a vote for FDR".

In my own small way, I can attest to the political value of the three name approach to politics. Why, for instance, out of nine statewide Romney delegates here in Tennessee in the February 2008 primary, did I receive the most votes ?

Much as I would like to think it was my large network of friends throughout the state, the most likely explanation is simply this:

The name Michael Patrick Leahy has a full, three name political resonance to it.

Which brings us to Barack Hussein Obama.

His case is different from John Quincy Adams, William Henry Harrison, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. Unlike those five American Presidents, Senator Obama prefers to be referred to by his two name moniker.

And for good reason.

The name "Barack Hussein Obama" does in fact, tell us something about the Senator's heritage, and it is not something that he wishes to highlight to the American voters. It tells us that his white American mother, and his Muslim Kenyan father chose to give him a complete name that reflected only his Muslim heritage.

"Barack" is not a name found in his mother's native Kansas. Nor is "Hussein" or "Obama".

"Barack Hussein Obama" also reminds voters that Senator Obama's left wing, "abandon Iraq Now" policies are consistent with the interests of Muslim terrorists, and in conflict with the national security interests of the United States.

And that is a completely legitimate way to highlight the political differences between Senator Obama and virtually every Republican voter in the country.

Senator Obama can certainly call himself "Barack Obama", and not follow the John Fitzgerald Kennedy/"JFK" tradition and refer to himself as Barack Hussein Obama/"BHO".

But Bill Cunningham, Michael Patrick Leahy, and anyone else in the United States who wishes should feel free to refer to Senator Obama as "Barack Hussein Obama" any time and any place they want.

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