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Saturday, November 15, 2008

the blogger formerly known as Hussein

Back in February, I was so disgusted by the insulting way that Republicans abused Barack Obama's middle name Hussein that I announced here and elsewhere that I would change my name to Jeff Hussein Strabone for the duration of the campaign, and I invited others to do the same. While I was certainly not the only person with the idea, my manifesto caught on and was picked up by news sources around the world. Whether my words made any difference is doubtful, but it was certainly fun while it lasted.

Barack Hussein Obama is now the president-elect of the United States. For the first time, I feel like the next president is going to be my president, someone who shares my values of intellectualism, civility, thoughtfulness, worldliness, competence, dialogue, and decency. Jimmy Carter embodied many of these values, but he was not, back then, the worldliest of men, and anyway I was far too young to feel much about him one way or the other. My one recollection of the 1976 campaign was that I favoured Carter because I associated him with the television programme Welcome Back, Kotter.

I have enormous confidence that Obama has the ability to be a great president. But I am skeptical that our adulation will help him live up to his potential. In fact, I am certain of the opposite: if we fawn over this man, he will, like all men (and women, too), take our love for granted. With that timeless truth of romance and politics firmly in mind, I hereby announce that I will no longer call myself Hussein.

Think about it: in just over two months, Obama will be the most powerful man in the world. Is it ever responsible to identify too closely with the powerful? I'm with Chuck D, circa 1989, on this one: we've got to fight the powers that be, and Obama is about to assume those very same powers.

Don't get me wrong. I expect to go on supporting Obama's overall vision because it is similar to my own. But if we want Obama to be as great a president as we think he can be, then it's time to become his critics. No president ever suffered for hearing the constructive criticism of those who elected him. With innumerable forces trying to pull him in the other direction, the best thing we can do for Obama is to criticize him—from the left—when he lets us down. And he will.

When the ignorant called critics of the war unpatriotic, our response was uniform: dissent can be the highest form of patriotism. My fellow Americans, I call on each and every one of you to accept your patriotic duty and join me in standing ready to criticize the most powerful man in the world, our next president, Barack Obama.



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