Is there something embarrassing or shameful about Barack Obama’s middle name?
Recently, the president-elect did a “sit down interview” with journalists from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune newspapers. It was the first interview of its kind that he has done since winning the election last month.
In this not-so-widely publicized interview, Obama answered questions on a wide array of issues, most notably, how he intends to deal with what he calls “the Muslim world.” And in this interview, Mr. Obama was asked a very intriguing question: “do you anticipate being sworn in as Barack Obama, or Barack Hussein Obama?” I say that this is a “very intriguing” question, because during the course of the campaign, I had several very intriguing experiences surrounding Obama’s middle name.
Over the past two years, I have uttered on talk radio the name “Hussein” — Obama’s obviously Arab-sounding middle name — only a small handful of times. Truthfully, I have probably recited the words “Barack Husein Obama” on the radio, about as many times as I have said the words “John Sidney McCain.”
I have done this only a time or two on my own radio talk show that I host in Washington, D.C. I’ve also said “Barack Hussein Obama” on shows that I have guest-hosted in Los Angeles and Chicago. And I recall saying it once last summer here in town, as I was guest hosting “Ankarlo Mornings” for Daryl Ankarlo on KTAR radio (92.3 FM).
Without fail, my rare references to the name “Hussein” on talk radio drew nasty phone calls and e-mail messages each time. The comments were presumably from partisan Obama supporters, and they were mighty ugly. I had people calling me a “bigot,” “fear-monger” and “racist,” and a bunch of other words that I can’t print here. I even ended up with voice mail from an unidentified guy on my mobile telephone calling me a “homophobe” after one of my “Husein moments,” which was especially perplexing given that Obama is married and presumably heterosexual.
In each case, the angry radio listeners insisted that I was only saying Obama’s middle name so as to embarrass him. And this very visceral reaction implied that, in the minds of sone, there was something embarrassing about Obama’s middle name.
So it’s interesting that, with the election over with, some American journalists would raise the issue directly to Obama even if in a somewhat back-handed way. In response to the question, Obama stated “I think the tradition is that they (the former presidents) use all three names. And I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I’ll do what everybody else does.”
Now, for the record, there is no clear, concise tradition at stake here. For example, when reciting the oath of office in 1953, President Dwight David Eisenhower said “I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, do solemnly swear…” And when it was Ronald Wilson Reagan’s turn in 1981, he stated “I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear…” without reference to either his middle name or middle initial.
So what’s going on here? Is Obama trying to show respect to the “Muslim world” by reciting his Arab-sounding middle name? Does Obama feel it necessary to justify the uttering of his own middle name by fabricating the notion that he’s following a presidential tradition? Is he uncomfortable with his middle name? Is he embarrassed by it?
The name itself is not so important. It’s the reaction to the name from Obama supporters, and from Obama himself, that is mysterious.
Austin Hill of Gilbert is a host for Arizona Web TV (
) and is heard on XM Satellite Radio. He is co-author of “White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History,” and is an editorialist for the national news and commentary site
. Contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.