Bob Kerrey Praises Barack Hussein Obama

Former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey endorsed Hillary Clinton yesterday, citing her years of experience and preparation. He had some kind words for her chief rival, Barack Obama, that have caused some controversy.

Bob Kerrey Praises Barack Hussein Obama “The fact that he’s African American is a big deal. I do expect and hope that Hillary is the nominee of the party. But I hope he’s used in some way. If he happens to be the nominee of the party and ends up being president, I think his capacity to influence in a positive way without spending a penny the behavior of a lot of underperforming black youth today is very important, and he’s the only one who can reach them.”

Kerrey continued, “It’s probably not something that appeals to him, but I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim. There’s a billion people on the planet that are Muslims and I think that experience is a big deal.” He added, “He’s got a whale of a lot more intellectual talent than I’ve got as well.”

ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that many Obama supporters think this praise was a disguised smear, “A clear attempt to raise an issue while pretending not to raise it.”

No More Mister Nice Blog‘s Steve M. is less polite.

Ahem, 95% white Iowa and 96% white New Hampshire, Barack Obama is black in the way those shiftless black teenagers who haunt your nightmares are black. And he’s a camel jockey named Hussein as well.

Kerrey is bemused by the suggestion.

Reached on the phone Sunday evening, Kerrey said that’s not at all how he meant it.

“What I said was an answer to a question,” Kerrey said. He’d been asked by a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald about the fact that the Clinton folks are hammering home the idea that Obama has little experience, while both Obama today and Kerrey in 1992 ran for president in their first Senate term.

“My answer was yes, but I finished third in the primary. Obama’s smarter and more talented than I ever was, and he has two things which are connected to his life experience that give him special capacity,” Kerrey recalled. “First, he is African American and can speak to underperforming Black youth in a way that no other candidate can. He gave a speech in Selma that was incredible, that no white person could ever give. No government program could ever do what Barack Obama can do.

“Second,” Kerrey continued, “his name is Barack Hussein Obama. I know that middle name is seen as a weakness by Republicans, but I don’t think it is. I think it enables him to speak to a billion Muslims around the world.”

Mark Kleiman thinks this more than plausible.

It’s entirely possible that Kerrey meant what he said about Obama’s name doing America good in its foreign relations. I’m more inclined to believe that because I also think that what Kerrey said was true: a big advantage to electing Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency is that there are a billion people in the world with relatives named “Hussein,” and they’d be less inclined to be our enemies if our leader had “Hussein” in his name. I don’t think that would be a good issue for Obama to campaign on, but it’s still the case, whatever Kerrey’s motivation for mentioning it.

Of course that’s the spirit in which Kerrey meant those remarks. It’s the same thinking that got Joe Biden in trouble when he praised Obama as the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”

I disagree strongly with Kerrey and Kleiman about the value of having a president with a Muslim middle name. Indeed, the idea that religious nuts who are willing to murder thousands of Americans would think “Hey, they elected a guy with a Muslim middle name! They must be okay!” is absurd. Hell, they kill plenty of people named Hussein who actually are Muslims; the only thing they hate more than American infidels is Arab apostates.

But Kerry really believes that kind of thing. And he was saying that Obama is going to be a good president some day but that he needs more seasoning.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Burgess says:

    I think Kerrey’s point was to let American Muslims know that they were included in the great American populace and that no one’s name should be an exclusive factor, for whatever reason.

    And yes, Americans named ‘Osama’ are going to get grief for many, many years to come.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    You still don’t see that many baby Adolfs in Germany.

  3. cian says:

    Indeed, the idea that religious nuts who are willing to murder thousands of Americans would think “Hey, they elected a guy with a Muslim middle name! They must be okay!” is absurd.

    Is it always necessary to go to the extremes? For many on the right, to mention Muslims in one breath means you must automatically mention religious nuts or Islamic terrorists with the other.

    If the serious problem that exists between the west and the middle east is ever to have any hope of a resolution, mindless comments like the one above need to be banished from our thinking.

    Of course the terrorists can’t be reached, but like a vast majority of Americans, a vast majority of Muslims wish also to live out there lives in peace. Are they to be ignored? Is this a useless fact? Is endless war the only answer the right can offer?

  4. Tano says:

    Excellent point cian.

    That was very disappointing commentary by James. It seems true that the extreme right has infected the thinking of a far larger swath of people than their own numbers would imply.

    The reflexive association of Muslims with terroists is precisely what the extremists amongst us try to push. Kerrey was clearly referring to the billion or so Muslims who are not terrorists – not the thousands who are.

    The “hearts and minds” campaign is aimed at these good people – will the terrorists succeed in convincing them that the West is their absolute enemy, such that the terrorists should be viewed as the true and noble protectors of Islam, even if they have to get their hands dirty doing so? Or are the terrorists going to fail – and the Muslims of the world find their way to a prosperous coexistence with the rest of humanity, keeping what is of value of their culture, but also finding ways to live in mututal repect with the West?

    Having a president with a Muslim middle name, and some familial ties to Islam is not, in and of itself going to accomplish all that much. But it certainly would be a remarkable blow to any notion that the West is necessarily and inherintly hostile to Muslims. Every Muslim named Hussein, or who has a relative named Hussein (which probably covers most of them) will have living breathing proof, on a day to day basis for 8 years, of what is possible for someone who might be at least a little bit like them, in the West.

    Kerrey is right.

  5. Tom in Omaha says:

    I’m disappointed in Kerry’s endorsement of Clinton, but I don’t have a problem with his statements on Obama – he’s right.

    And the “Hussein” isn’t important for those who have already become violent extremists, but for the hundreds of millions of moderates and conservatives who haven’t. There is no realistic way we can influence the extremists directly, only through the moderates and conservatives, so their support is crucial.

    Kerry is right. He’s feathering his bed in case Obama IS nominated. He may still run for our Nebraska Senate seat vacated by Chuck Hagel.

  6. I worked for Bob Kerrey and he has been my favorite politician since 1988. I have prayed that he would be elected President ever since then. I am shocked to find that today, with his underhanded smear of Obama, that I will never trust anything he says again. I imagine the Clinton’s purchased his subtle smear for a high price. Karl Rove could have written the same comments. I feel like a naive child who just found out his hero is the opposite of a hero. Maybe I should seek counseling at a cult awareness group. I hope there is a limit to the number of Robert Hansen’s in the Democratic Party.

  7. Tom in Omaha says:

    Truthseeker: I was much more disillusioned and horrified at Kerry’s support of the Iraq War than at these remarks.

    They may be some sort of attempt at a political trick, but I have faith that like most of the Clintons’ political tricks, it will backfire.

    The truth is that Obama’s connections to the Muslim world are one of his major assets. As Americans begin to understand and accept this reality, things could change very quickly. Its a big change, but not that big, after all.

    If Bob Kerry’s statement, whatever the motivation, helps move things along, then we can only be thankful for it.

  8. >Jesus|Freak says:

    First of all, Obama is a Christian. He says how he accepted the Lord and came to faith in Jesus in a speech that is on his website. He is also a member of a church. He might have a Muslim father who named him an Arab name but that should not matter. Why does the President have to be white anyway? Prejudice and bigotry is a sin.


  9. Andy says:

    Bob Kerrey knew exactly what he was doing with those backhanded Obama “compliments.” This man is shameless. It sickens me knowing that the general public is stupid enough to fall for this stuff. The media’s handling of the subject didn’t help anything either.

    Obama has what it takes to be one of the most inspiring President of all time. He’s the real deal.