Why Did Bob Kerrey Mention Obama's Middle Name -- 'Hussein'?

Some Obama supporters have asked why former Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who endorsed Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., today, mentioned her opponent Sen. Barack Hussein Obama's middle name in remarks published in The Washington Post. (LINK)

"I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his  father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim," Kerrey is quoted as saying. "There's a billion people on the planet that are Muslims, and I think that experience is a big deal."

Obama supporters see this in the same light that they see Clinton strategist Mark Penn's remarks on MSNBC's Hardball  (LINK) -- that, as far as former Clinton campaign co-chair Billy Shaheen's remarks about Obama's youthful drug use, "the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising."

Too clever by half, they think.

A clear attempt to raise an issue while pretending not to raise it.

Same thing with the "Hussein" middle name?

Reached on the phone Sunday evening, Kerrey said that's not at all how he meant it.

"What I said was an answer to a question," Kerrey said.

He'd been asked by a reporter from the Omaha World-Herald about the fact that the Clinton folks are hammering home the idea that Obama has little experience, while both Obama today and Kerrey in 1992 ran for president in their first Senate term.

"My answer was yes, but I finished third in the primary. Obama's smarter and more talented than I ever was, and he has two things which are connected to his life experience that  give him special capacity," Kerrey recalled. "First, he is African American and can speak  to underperforming Black youth in a way that no other candidate can. He gave a speech in Selma that was incredible (LINK), that no white person could ever give. No government program could ever do what Barack Obama can do. 

"Second," Kerrey continued, "his name is Barack Hussein Obama. I know that middle name is seen as a weakness by Republicans, but I don't think it is. I think it enables him to speak to a billion Muslims around the world."

Kerrey said he's spoken to Obama and his staffers and told them to "lead with it as a strength. There's this nonsense out there about him being a Muslim Manchurian candidate. He should do a commercial, look the camera straight in the eye, and say, 'My wife Michelle and I are Christians, but my father was a Muslim and my paternal grandfather was a Muslim, and that fact and my name means I can speak to a billion people around the world" who need to hear from the United States.

Kerrey's endorsement of Clinton came as a surprise to some, given his past conflicts with the family (while running against Bill in 1992, Kerrey said Republicans would break him open "like a soft peanut" (LINK) because of his confusing answers about avoiding the draft; he called Bill an "unusually good liar"; and once contemplated challenging him in the Democratic primaries in 1996).

"If I only had the relationship with her I had when she was in the White House, I wouldn't have" endorsed her, he told me. "But she's been terrific as a senator."

Yes, it's true, he laughingly acknowledges, that as president of the New School, he needs her signature on appropriations for his university. But that's the point: "She returns phone calls. ... I also have seen her on the Armed Services Committee do very well. And today" -- his endorsement of her (LINK) in Council Bluffs, Iowa -- "she hit the ball out of the park."

-- jpt

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