Friday, February 29, 2008

Quincy's Predecessors Never Had 'Em

Amid all the fuss generated by syndicated radio newstalk host Bill Cunningham’s promiscuous employment of Barack Obama’s improbable middle name, a perfectly sensible suggestion I offered many times over KIRO last year has still, oddly enough, yet to gain any traction whatsoever this Leap Day.

Shakespeare famously asked “What’s in a name?”, but when that name happens to be Hussein, the answer clearly is “plenty”. There's much in the wake of all the outrage, both authentic and synthetic, over the Cincinnati-based Cunningham's provocative word choice while warming up the crowd at an Ohio Republican rally awaiting John McCain's arrival. And much analysis during the last few days has been devoted to hashing out guidelines by which reporters and pundits can refer to Obama while ensuring all the delicate political correctness considerations remain in balance.

But this idea would bypass all that: I say the junior Senator from Illinois should publicly, and dramatically, march down to the Cook County Superior Court in Chicago and get his middle name legally removed. And while he’s at it, he should also seriously consider petitioning the judge to change his first name to Barry, the nickname by which the young Obama was known for many years.

Obama could declare to the voters, “As I stand on here the threshold of history, asking your solemn endorsement to shoulder this most profound of all American duties, it’s important that the name of the nation’s future 44th President sound American. So Barack Hussein Obama is again, and henceforth, Barry Obama.”

He could also point out that we're dealing with the Presidency here, an institution where precedent always carries enormous weight, and that John Quincy Adams, our 6th President, was the first to even have a middle name anyway.

Of course, I know how Obama would be bitterly savaged from the left for supposedly selling out his heritage, but those critics wouldn’t represent votes lost to the GOP anyway. And in these unchartered political waters, it wouldn't be surprising to see him also body-slammed by the right for flip-flopping. And yes, I also fully realize that this just ain't a-gonna happen.

(In case your reaction is, Come on, Styble, why not change your name? Well, as a matter of fact, I did delete my middle name as soon as I entered show business, on the premise that for anyone with a surname as rare as mine, a third name is a superfluous identifier.)

Ideally, of course, names shouldn’t matter a whit in politics. But I’ve heard several newstalk radio callers supporting Mike Huckabee lament about the “funny” name which burdens the Arkansan . (Last year Obama often used that very term on the stump to poke fun at two of his own three names--but never that pesky one in the middle.)

And I'm quite confident Oklahoma football-star-turned-Congressman J.C. Watts, by always using only his initials, was squandering a natural electoral edge his parents had (presumably) unwittingly afforded the future U.S. Representative. It would have been worth a good extra ten percentage points every two years, had the ballots read “Julius Caesar Watts”.

But America was never at war with Rome, and anyway, the ancient general-turned-dictator was actually a rather benevolent leader compared to a certain executed modern despot after whom Obama definitely was not middle-named.

So, once the former First Lady is out of the way and he can concentrate on the big one, it’s in Obama’s serious political interest to formally jettison at least the “Hussein”…just in case McCain proves unexpectedly difficult to steamroll on the first Tuesday after the first Monday this November. And besides, isn't his trademark word "change"?


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