A noble name

by Michael O. Allen on November 9, 2008

Until I read  Jim Sleeper‘s TPM Cafe column, Swear Him in as ‘Barack Hussein Obama,’ it never occurred to me that the president-elect would be sworn in by anything other than his full name.

The protests during the primaries and the general elections have been when bigots have wielded the name as an invective or epithet.

Obama has never appeared to have any hang-ups about his name. I’ve heard speeches where he invoked the name, or joked about it. For instance, during the 63rd annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York, the traditional dinner where presidential candidates meet to crack wise about the campaign and about each other. Mr. Obama was particularly self-deprecating:

Many of you — many of you know that I got my name, Barack, from my father. What you may not know is Barack is actually Swahili for “That One.”
And I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d ever run for president.

Here’s Sleeper:

Even as we all lurch from symbolism to substance now that Barack Obama is President-elect, I hope that he appreciates the symbolic and substantive rewards of being sworn in on January 20 as “Barack Hussein Obama.”

During the campaign, neo-conservatives such as Daniel Pipes and others of Obama’s detractors thought it smart to highlight his paternal Muslim roots and associations. But now that he’s won, anyone would have to be as naive as a neo-con to miss the nobility and world-historical gains this country would achieve if, having overthrown a bad Hussein, it installed a good one — not in Baghdad, but in Washington.

Sure, the mind reels. Hussein is a title of honor applied to metaphorical descendants of the prophet Mohammed. An American president bearing that name proudly would enact what philosophers call a transvaluation of values — a wicked case of cognitive dissonance for millions of people like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

Continue . . .

Based on nothing but intuition, I think Mr. Obama will proudly carry his middle name, Hussein, into the history books.

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