It's one thing for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to distance himself from his minister, his home lender, his pledge to try to work out an agreement to use public financing, or the importance of telecom immunity in the FISA bill.
But his own middle initial?
In today's New York Times, Adam Nagourney and Jeff Zeleny take a look at the difficult process of reconciliation between staffers of Obama and those of Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY:
"In the primary, aides to Mrs. Clinton referred to their rival as B.H.O. — initials of Barack Hussein Obama, including his middle name, which has been a politically sensitive issue — while Mr. Obama’s team simply referred to him as B.O. The B.H.O. shorthand is frowned upon inside Mr. Obama’s campaign headquarters, a warning for any Clinton staff members coming aboard."
Especially in this day and age of blackberries and text messaging. I frequently email Obama campaign staffers using "BHO" as shorthand, and McCain campaign staffers using "JSM" as shorthand -- with no malice intended at all. (And I did the same for Johnny Reid Edwards, Hillary Rodham Clinton, etc. Though I didn't use "WMR" for Willard Mitt Romney, I confess.)
Clearly, however, the middle name "Hussein" is not an automatic crowd-winner, and the Obama campaign is sensitive to any reminder -- no matter how internal or benign -- of said name. To his credit, unlike some other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Obama didn't legally change his name.
Certainly Obama's staffers can use whatever initials they want in their inter-office communiqués. I've just never considered use of a middle initial to be an insult.