“You’ve got to get that Cousin Pookie sitting at home on the couch,” President Obama urged Democrats Sunday. “He’s watching football right now instead of being here at the rally. You’ve got to talk to him and let him know it is not that hard to exercise the franchise that previous generations fought so hard to obtain.”
The president’s speech in support of Maryland gubernatorial candidate Anthony Brown had many Democrats heading for the exits, and it’s easy to see why, given Obama’s eleventh-hour reachback to Cousin Pookie, a stock character who, along with Uncle Jethro and Ray Ray, has been showing up in Obama’s speeches since long before he was president.
“If Cousin Pookie would vote, if Uncle Jethro would get off the couch and stop watching SportsCenter and go register some folks and go to the polls, we might have a different kind of politics,” then-Senator Obama told a crowd in Selma, Ala., in early 2007.
So just who are these layabouts the president seems to believe are in the social networks of his most ardent supporters? ABC’s Rick Klein calls Pookie and company “the president’s chuckle-inducing way of getting African-American crowds to bring their disconnected friends and relatives to the polls.”
Urban Dictionary defines “pookie” variously as a romantic term of endearment and a general nickname of affection, but also as slang for a crack pipe. In the 1991 film New Jack City, comedy superstar Chris Rock played a doomed crackhead and petty criminal named Pookie who acts as a snitch for a police officer played by Ice-T. Among the various works of graffiti on the municipal buses this reporter used to take to and from an urban high school was the phrase “Pookie Pumpkin BKA Rufus T. Firefly” — a common indication that a particular person wanted to adopt (“be known as”) a new identity (in this case a character played by Groucho Marx in the movie Duck Soup). But I never located anybody claiming to be that individual. The name is also occasionally used as a diminutive for Paul.
So who is Pookie? Why, after six solid years of the Obama economy, has he taken Uncle Jethro’s place on the couch, and does that mean Uncle Jethro has moved on to some more active lifestyle? In fact, why are these characters always described as being “on the couch” on Election Day, rather than, for example, working, attending classes, doing charitable deeds, or spending quality time with family members? Is the name a reference to Chris Rock’s character, and if so, is Obama concerned about negative role models? Has the president ever actually known anybody with the name or nickname “Pookie”?
The White House press office did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for answers to these questions.