Last week, Barack Obama made some extraordinary statements. And some of them were not made from behind “the Podium of the President-elect.”
In a not-so-widely publicized interview with journalists from the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Obama answered questions on a wide range of issues, most notably, how he intends to deal with what he calls “the Muslim world.”
Early on, Mr. Obama was asked “do you anticipate being sworn in as Barack Obama, or Barack Hussein Obama?” This is an interesting question on a variety of levels.
Over the past two years, I have uttered Mr. Obama’s obviously Arab-sounding middle name on talk radio only a handful of times. I have recited the words “Barack Husein Obama” about as many times as I have said the words “John Sidney McCain.”
I have done this a time or two on my own local radio talk show in Washington, D.C., as well as on other radio talk shows where I have guest hosted, in Los Angeles, Dallas, Phoenix, Chicago, and on nationally syndicated programs.
Without fail, my rare references to the name “Hussein” drew nasty phone calls and email messages each time. The comments were presumably from partisan Obama supporters, calling me a “bigot,” “fear-monger,” and “racist,” and insisting that I was only saying Mr. Obama’s middle name so as to embarrass him.
Of course, the reaction from these talk radio listeners implied that there is indeed something embarrassing about Obama’s middle name And it’s interesting that American journalists would raise this issue to Obama directly, even if in a somewhat back-handed way. In response, Obama stated “I think the tradition is that they (the former Presidents) use all three names. And I will follow the tradition, not trying to make a statement one way or the other. I'll do what everybody else does..”
Now, for the record, there is no clear, concise tradition at stake here. When reciting the Oath of Office, President Dwight David Eisenhower said “I, Dwight D. Eisenhower, do solemnly swear…” And when it was Ronald Wilson Reagan’s turn in 1981, he stated “I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear..,” without reference to either his middle name or middle initial.
So does Obama feel it necessary to justify the uttering of his own middle name, by fabricating the notion that he’s just “doing it the way all the other President’s did it?” Is he uncomfortable with his middle name? Is he embarrassed by it? The name itself is not so important. It’s the reaction to the name, from Obama, as well as from his partisan “supporters,” that is noteworthy.
More importantly, Obama was asked whether he still intends to “give a speech in an Islamic capitol,” something he promised to do while he was a candidate. To this, Obama replied:
“This is something that I talked about doing in the campaign and it's something that I intend to follow through on. What the time frame is, how we structure that, you know, is something that I will determine with my national security team in the coming weeks and months. But I think we've got a unique opportunity to reboot America's image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular. So, we need to take advantage of that and the message I want to send is that we will be unyielding in stamping out the kind of terrorist extremism that we saw in Mumbai…”
Throughout his campaign, Mr. Obama reiterated the popular liberal notions that America is hated throughout the world, and this hatred is all because of President Bush, and once Bush is out of the White House the world will love America again. In his famous speech from Berlin last summer, Obama claimed that both Americans and Europeans need to follow the example set by “the vast majority of Muslims” who seek peace throughout the world. And his campaign promise to deliver a speech in an Islamic capitol was thought to be the ultimate gesture of tolerance and acceptance, the ultimate celebration of diversity, that would finally bridge the gap between the Muslim world and civilized society.
Yet now, as the soon-to-be 44th President of the United States, Obama is making his proposed speech at an Islamic capitol contingent on national security concerns. In discussing his promises to “reach out” to the Muslim world, he can’t avoid mentioning the murderous attack on the economic epicenter of Mumbai by Muslim extremists. He equivocates over a simple question about his own middle name. In short, Mr. Obama is, in a variety of ways, acknowledging, however hesitantly, that there are things about the Muslim world that are absolutely uncivilized, and are not to be tolerated.
Our President-elect may be, for the first time, awakening to some harsh realities about the world. He may also be implicitly acknowledging what he has always known, and the pacifist campaign rhetoric was nothing more than that - - rhetoric.
Regardless, one can only hope that an extremely liberal Congress, and the social and political left, generally, will experience a similar “awakening.”