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.