Saginaw NAACP President Leola Wilson remembers how three years ago, a friend phoned her about an upstart black politician with a “funny name.”
“She was traveling to Illinois to help with a get-out-and-vote campaign,” Wilson said, “and I remember her telling me she didn’t even know how to pronounce the candidate’s name and wondered how in the world a black guy with a name like Barack Obama thought he was going to get elected to the U.S. Senate.”
One hears that “funny name” bit about Obama quite a lot, but his name isn’t really all that exotic by American standards, a land of Leolas and Olla-Violas (great aunt of mine), of couples called Dr. and Dr. Doctor (a real husband-wife medical team in Connecticut, apparently). “Trout Fishing in America” is a funny name.
A name is shorthand for an identity, and that’s the real issue about Barack Obama, and why his supporters bristle at the mention of his middle name, Hussein. Nobody knows who, exactly, this guy is. It’s not clear that he knows. He’s written a book about his personal quest for identity, but the truly worrisome thing is how he executes turn-on-a-dime-and-make-change spins on major policy questions, such as school choice or the Israel-Palestinian mess. Obama makes good speeches, but it’s not clear what he believes or in what values he is rooted. Talking about his “funny name” is how Obama tries to defuse deeper questions about who he is and what he really believes, if he really believes anything.