Times-Picayune: Name game can have racial tinge

Times-Picayune

Name game can have racial tinge

 

Mention the name “Bobby” in Louisiana political circles these days and most everyone will assume you are talking about Bobby Jindal, the popular second-term congressman now running at the top of the polls for governor.

But some Democrats would like to remind voters that Bobby Jindal has another name: Piyush.

In news releases, interviews and small talk, they frequently refer to Jindal by his Indian, given first name. Last week, “Piyush” popped out of the mouth of former Sen. John Breaux, D-La., who briefly considered running for governor.

Democrats say it’s a way of throwing back the curtain on what they say is a “manufactured candidate” who has carefully crafted a public image that doesn’t measure up to reality.

Jindal brushes it off as a “silly schoolyard tactic.” Others, however, say it is a blatantly racist appeal that seeks to score political points by stoking biases many had hoped were on the wane in the Deep South.

“It’s making fun of someone’s name with a veiled reference to race,” pollster Bernie Pinsonat said. “Republicans have played games with this. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen Democrats resort to it.”

Political name-calling is not new. Louisiana icons Huey and Earl Long were famous for making up obnoxious nicknames for opponents, usually dealing with their physical appearance or the clothes they wore.

On a more subliminal level, former Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1987 famously called Republican presidential rival Pete du Pont by his given name, Pierre, creating an elite, French-sounding sobriquet. In 1969, Democrats in Virginia reminded voters that the Republican A. Linwood Holton’s name was Abner. And just as Democrats labeled President Richard Nixon “Tricky Dick,” a generation later Republicans came up with “Slick Willy” for President Bill Clinton.

Currently, conservative commentators like to remind voters that the middle name of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is Hussein.

They defend it by saying Hussein is part of the candidate’s legal name. But Democrats and civil rights groups have been quick to criticize it as a racist attempt to leave the impression that there is somet

 

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