Progressive Revival

A great column by Jim Sleeper on Talking Points Memo…

Even as we lurch from symbolism to substance now that Barack Obama is President-elect, I hope that he appreciates the symbolic and substantive rewards of being sworn in on January 20 as “Barack Hussein Obama.”

During the campaign, neo-conservatives such as Daniel Pipes and others of Obama’s detractors thought it smart to highlight his paternal Muslim roots and associations. But now that he’s won, anyone would have to be as naive as a neo-con to miss the nobility and world-historical gains this country would achieve if, having overthrown a bad Hussein, it installed a good one — not in Baghdad, but in Washington. 

Sure, the mind reels. Hussein is a title of honor applied to metaphorical descendants of the prophet Mohammed. An American president bearing that name even just residually would enact what philosophers call a transvaluation of values — a wicked case of cognitive dissonance for millions of people like Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, and for millions more, abroad, who are not like them at all.

German minds reeled 65 years ago, too, at the ascendancy of an American named Eisenhower to command the allied forces and, five years later, to be president. After all, German-Americans had been a despised, persecuted minority here during World War I, less than three decades before Eisenhower’s ascent.

To be sure, the situation now is more polarizing for Muslims, here and abroad. Islamicists, confronted with a Hussein in the White House, will rage that the Great Satan has stolen and polluted a holy name. But where were they when the phony pietiest Saddam Hussein, an admirer more of Stalin than of Mohammed, was butchering millions?

Unlike the rule of that Hussein and of oil sheiks, mullahs, and the Taliban, the very prospect of our Hussein’s inauguration is raising millions of young Muslims’ democratic hopes even higher than America has raised their material and sensual ones. (And, given present circumstances, it’s telling that just when Obama’s election was about to reflect Western democracy’s deepest strengths, the iconically Western Gordon Brown was begging the Saudis to aid the International Monetary Fund.)

Notice, too, the symbolic and substantive impact Barack Hussein Obama is having on African-American youths’ already waning attraction to the Nation of Islam, whose leader Louis Farrakhan lives a stone’s throw from the Obamas in Chicago’s South Side. Farrakhan endorsed Obama with a kind of desperation last summer, only to be rebuffed. That tells us all we need to know, as I explained here then, successfully, to nervous Jewish voters. 

Still other ironies in Obama’s name are rich beyond measure. Barack is Arabic for the Hebrew Baruch, meaning “blessed” in both tongues — another of the many achingly poignant, almost illicit, intimacies between the two languages and religions. The most famous Jew to bear the name was the medieval philosopher Baruch Spinoza, who crossed Christian and Jewish lines, blurring them in order to transcend them.

Read whole article here…

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