Playing Games With Politicians’ Names

New Orleans Times-Picayune writer Bill Walsh notes that Barack Obama isn’t the only politician whose legal name has been used as a coded slur: another notable case is Louisiana GOP congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bobby Jindal, whose given name “Piyush” is regularly used by Louisiana Democrats, presumably to emphasize his “foreignness.”

Democrats say it’s a way of throwing back the curtain on what they say is a “manufactured candidate” who has carefully crafted a public image that doesn’t measure up to reality.

Jindal brushes it off as a “silly schoolyard tactic.” Others, however, say it is a blatantly racist appeal that seeks to score political points by stoking biases many had hoped were on the wane in the Deep South.

“It’s making fun of someone’s name with a veiled reference to race,” pollster Bernie Pinsonat said. “Republicans have played games with this. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Democrats resort to it.”

Political name-calling is not new. Louisiana icons Huey and Earl Long were famous for making up obnoxious nicknames for opponents, usually dealing with their physical appearance or the clothes they wore.

On a more subliminal level, former Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1987 famously called Republican presidential rival Pete du Pont by his given name, Pierre, creating an elite, French-sounding sobriquet. In 1969, Democrats in Virginia reminded voters that the Republican A. Linwood Holton’s name was Abner. And just as Democrats labeled President Richard Nixon “Tricky Dick,” a generation later Republicans came up with “Slick Willy” for President Bill Clinton.

The idea that a nickname chosen by a child in his youth represents some sort of carefully-crafted deception is absurd (many first and second-generation immigrants adopt or are given Anglicized names to better assimilate in American society–not as part of an effort to deceive Americans, but out of national pride), and Democrats ought to be ashamed for resorting to the sort of racist appeals they rightly condemn when directed against Obama and other Democrats.

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Chris Lawrence
About Chris Lawrence
Chris teaches political science at Middle Georgia State University in Macon, Georgia. He has a Ph.D. in political science (with concentrations in American politics and political methodology) from the University of Mississippi. He began writing for OTB in June 2006. Follow him on Twitter @lordsutch.


  1. ob1 says:

    “Slick Willy” was not invented by Republicans, it was coined by Paul Greenberg, Editorial page editor, Arkansas Democrat Gazette, in 1980.

  2. Anjin-San says:

    Democrats ought to be ashamed for resorting to the sort of racist appeals they rightly condemn when directed against Obama and other Democrats.

    Damn straight…

  3. Anderson says:

    Louisiana Democrats are unofficially disowned by the rest of the party, but perhaps that should be made official ….

  4. On a lesser level I’m annoyed when Republians use the word “Democrat” as an adjective. They opposed the “Democrat Party.” They oppose the “Democrat plan.” It used to be just party hacks, now radio yappers like Rush Limbaugh employ the petty, juvenille slur.

  5. William d'Inger says:

    If the worst thing they can call him is his real name, they’re sure grasping at straws.

  6. floyd says:

    “Jindal brushes it off as a “silly schoolyard tactic.” ”

    Doesn’t this prove his lack of political competence? Is it not true that the most effective and usually the only political tactics used in campaigning are “silly schoolyard tactics”

  7. floyd says:

    So does Obama, check his web site.

  8. G.A. Phillips says:

    Sean Hackworth, how could you ever call someone as brilliant as Rush Limbaugh a radio yapper, dude he would smoke any one, or any group of liberal jackasses, donkeylovers, and or monkeyworshipers that you put before him. I got an idea how about a debate, say maybe with all of the new Nazi order democrat presidential candidates vs. Good ole Rush, man now that would be a hoot. oh and what you call names I call creative labels for the truth, every time you turn around a liberal tries to censor your free speech , what the world coming to?

  9. G.A. Phillips says:

    Sorry Sean, for messing up your last name.

  10. Kent says:

    These guys are pikers when it comes to making points off of names.

    “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell referred to Chennault’s publicity officer, Joseph Alsop, who would later faithfully serve Joe McCarthy, as “Allslop.”

    Churchill is apocryphally quoted as commenting unfavorably on Eisenhower’s Secretary of State: “Dull, Duller, Dulles.”

    If you’re going to engage in schoolyard taunts, they should at least be clever schoolyard taunts.