Red Meat and Barack Hussein Obama

Red Meat and Barack Hussein Obama Ohio talk radio host Bill Cunningham, who got his 15 minutes of national fame for being repudiated by John McCain for a reference to “Barack Hussein Obama” in a speech introducing McCain, defended himself last night on “Hannity and Colmes.” He was, he swears, only following orders.

His people told me to give the faithful red meat. Give them red—raw—meat.

John Amato responds, “If he’s to be believed then McCain has more more splainin’ to do because he said that McMaverick’s people told him to throw out the red meat for his opening. Even if McCain wasn’t familiar with his act—his camp knows it and to tell Cunningham to go all out only means one thing—the apology was a fraud.”

I’d never heard of Cunningham until this controversy and am not familiar with his act. Perhaps he’s the Howard Stern of Ohio political talk and this is what he does. But, generally speaking, “red meat” doesn’t mean “racial slurs.”

When the party faithful come out for a big rally, they expect to be entertained and to have some fun at the other team’s expense. Some jokes about Hillary Clinton’s 35 years of “experience” or Obama’s campaign of “hope” would be expected. Plenty of making fun of liberals and so forth. But we wouldn’t expect the speaker to explicitly refer to Clinton as a “bitch” or to hurl racial epithets at Obama. There are lines one doesn’t cross.

Some of the more memorable party convention speeches were filled with red meat. Ann Richards’ going on about George H.W. Bush being “born with a silver foot in his mouth” or Zell Miller’s claim that John Kerry wanted to defend America with spitballs. When done right, it whips up the base, makes the other side cringe, and gets the undecided thinking. If one goes too far, however, it backfires.

The “Barack Hussein Obama” thing is in a no man’s land. Making fun of people’s given name is a time-honored tradition. George Bush used to make a point of using Pete DuPont’s given name, “Pierre,” to emphasize his blue blood background. Democrats turned the table on him occasionally, using all four of his names. The problem with “Barack Hussein Obama” is that it not only implies that he’s got something in common with our enemies but it comes across as a not-so-subtle allusion to his race. It’s too close to the line for comfort and McCain was right to disassociate himself from it.

Juan Cole has a long essay about the increasingly commonality of names of Semitic origin in the United States. And then there’s this:

It is worth pointing out that John McCain’s adopted daughter, Bridget, is originally from Bangladesh. Since Hussein is a very common name in Bangladesh, it is entirely possible that her birth father or grandfather was named Hussein. McCain certainly has Muslim relatives via adoption in his family. If Muslim relatives are a disqualification from high office in the United States, then McCain himself is in trouble. In fact, since Bridget is upset that George W. Bush doesn’t like her “because she is black,” and used her to stop the McCain campaign in South Carolina in 2000, you understand why McCain would be especially sensitive to race-baiting of Cunningham’s sort. The question is how vigorously he will combat it; he hasn’t been above Muslim-taunting in the campaign so far.

But that’s a different issue entirely. Barack Obama is McCain’s probable opponent for domestic political office. The other people with “Muslim names” the campaign is “taunting” are the enemies of our country. How to simultaneously call that enemy by his name while not offending the hundreds of millions of Muslims who don’t hate us is a question I can’t answer. This one, though, is pretty easy.

UPDATE: See Steven Taylor for more thoughts on why the emphasis on Obama’s name might reasonably construed as race baiting.

Correction: The original had Cunningham based out of Tennessee and referred to “other Muslims” in the last paragraph.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Race and Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. arky says:

    ‘ But, generally speaking, “red meat” doesn’t mean “racial slurs.”’

    So, ‘a reference to “Barack Hussein Obama”’ is a racial slur? In what lexicon?

    And yet there’s no similar reaction to the McMaverick reference in the earlier quote? Isn’t that a slur based on the “Mick” race? Oh wait, there is no such race is there?

    Since when has the name Hussein been a racial reference?

  2. Lisa says:

    It’s embarrassing to witness “conservative” talk show hosts claim to be part of the Republican Party and then act unaware of why Cunningham’s comments are inappropriate. It should make the rest of the party cringe that they claim to be part of the GOP. If they were truly conservatives, they would be aware of how offensive the comment was. Good for John McCain for distancing himself.

  3. Lisa says:

    racial slur? I think the link was more about feeding fears of terrorism links than racial… and if it wasn’t a big deal, then why is McCain’s apology a big deal? why not shrug that off? cunningham is just looking for a moment of sun and unfortunately bashing the GOP candidate doesn’t help elect a Republican in the fall.

  4. DA says:

    Barack Obama is McCain’s probable opponent for domestic political office. The other Muslims the campaign is “taunting” …

    The other Muslims?
    I assume this was just sloppiness, and not an attempt to participate in the “Obama is a Muslim” campaign.

  5. jmccomb says:

    Bill Cunningham is a talk show host in Cincinnati, OHIO. 700 WLW. Nationally, it’s a rather large radio concern – always has been. It’s the only AM radio station broadcast via XM radio

    No wonder you hadn’t heard of the Tennessee radio station or personality.

    Cunningham is just a wild personality – paid to stir it up, eat red meat on the radio and make you laugh while seeing reality, from a different point of view, at the same time.

    Unfortunately he was talking radio when he was on the stage introducing McCain. He should know the difference in the environment. He should have shown better discretion, and he should be a big man, admit it, and get over it so we can all get together and win this thing

  6. John425 says:

    Gee, what am I guilty of when I recall John Fitzgerald Kennedy, John Forbes Kerry, Harry S. Truman, John Quincy Adams, Dwight D(avid) Eisenhower, Clare Booth Luce, William Jefferson Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, et al?

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Just what is the racial connotation in Hussein? I thought Hussein was more of an Arab name. Seems it is a Muslim name, maybe. What part Arab or Mosley is B. Hussein Obama? I thought he was Nigerian and Hippie. What about his financial connection to a former member of the PLO? His Chicago roots have yet to be explored. I know he makes the claim he was against the war in Iraq. This is based upon what information that was available to a state legislator? What intelligence is normally shared with Illinois state senators? This man needs to be scrutinized throughly before voting for him.

  8. davod says:

    Another BS complaint. At this rate McCain will have capitulated by default before the race even starts.

    Just what did the guy say that was so terrible?

  9. bains says:

    But, generally speaking, “red meat” doesn’t mean “racial slurs.”

    An aside: Unless you are a Democrat, and then it is quite alright.

    Umm, Bill Cunningham’s usage of Barak’s middle name is not racist. It is sophomorically stupid, but when you say it is racist, you are succumbing to the linguistic sloppiness so prevalent amongst peddlers of identity politics (i could add leftist, but that would be redundant). You are becoming inside the beltway Dr. Joyner.

  10. bains says:

    oops… thought I had an original thought there. I sit rejected stand corrected.

  11. Chris says:

    Gee, what am I guilty of when I recall John Fitzgerald Kennedy, John Forbes Kerry, Harry S. Truman, John Quincy Adams, Dwight D(avid) Eisenhower, Clare Booth Luce, William Jefferson Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, et al?

    Posted by John425 | February 28, 2008 | 01:28 pm | Permalink

    But you don’t put the vocal emphasis on the middle name (or even use it at all.) I don’t remember the Reps going onto platforms to talk about Bill Jefferson Clinton, or the Dems ever discussing the policies of George Waaalker Bush. Because that’s how people say Hussein when they talk about Obama. Barack Husseeeeein Obama.

  12. bains says:

    I don’t remember the Reps going onto platforms to talk about Bill Jefferson Clinton, or the Dems ever discussing the policies of George Waaalker Bush.

    No, they used the proper William Jefferson Clinton. As for George W. Bush, opponents frequently use Chimpy McBush, or GW Bushitler or variants thereafter. The people I ostensibly side with willingly call out their own when such slights are issued. Not so for the other side.

  13. Chris says:

    As for George W. Bush, opponents frequently use Chimpy McBush, or GW Bushitler or variants thereafter.

    Indeed people do this but these aren’t people who are going on to talk immediately before a serious presidential candidate.

    The difference mainly is the implication, calling GWB ‘Chimpy McBush’, whilst immature, isn’t designed to tap into fears that GWB might be a secret chimp, whereas the ‘B. Hussein Obama’ references are designed to tap into fears that Obama is a secret muslim.

    Just to say, I’m pretty conservative and quite like McCain, and I’ve no doubt that insulting names are thrown around by all sides, c’est la vie, but there is a difference with what is happening with Obama. Everyone knows ‘Bushitler’ etc etc is just stupid name-calling, but people actually think that being called ‘Hussein Obama’ makes him a Muslim, and makes them take the madrassa, Islamic fundementalist Manchurian nonsense much more seriously.

  14. bains says:

    Just to say […] Everyone knows ‘Bushitler’ etc etc is just stupid name-calling, but people actually think that being called ‘Hussein Obama’ makes him a Muslim, and makes them take the madrassa, Islamic fundementalist Manchurian nonsense much more seriously.

    No. Both are transparently stupid. To argue as you do is to fall into the “identity politics” trap that the left has so insidious set up.

  15. davod says:

    Obama and co show their immaturity by playing the race/religion/whatever card. Obama should have stated that Hussein is his middle name and he is proud of it.

  16. arky says:

    “UPDATE: See Steven Taylor for more thoughts on why the emphasis on Obama’s name might reasonably construed as race baiting.”

    I can agree with the baiting part. My problem is when you try to make it about race. To use Steve’s example, would using someone’s middle name of ‘Adolph’ in the 40s have been a racial reference?

    Too many people run right for the race issue whenever a minority is in the news. Why does it have to be race? Religion (Islam) is NOT racial. Names are not racial.

    If you want to take someone to task for emphasizing another’s cultural/ethnic roots, then call it that way. But why does everyone have to trot out the race card everywhere? It’s getting (or has been) worse than comparisons to Hitler or facism. I think there’s a corollary to Godwin’s law buried somewhere here.