Liberal corners of the Internet are giggling at the discomfort of Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifying yesterday before the Senate Intelligence committee as he tried to rebuff accusations of Russia-Trump collusion. But too often the schadenfreude has referenced the attorney general’s full name: Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III – thus reinforcing what has become a mean-spirited and unfair caricature of the Alabaman as a racist good-old-boy.
It’s precisely “Barack Hussein Obama” all over again – but Sessions is a Republican, so it’s all good fun, right?
For those not up on their Civil War history, Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederacy – and P.G.T. Beauregard was one of its most famous generals. Sessions was born in 1946 and shared the name of his father and grandfather, so the name dates to just a few decades after that conflict. Sure, its transmission to two more generations may have reflected fealty to the Confederacy, but it also may have just honored the future attorney general’s father and grandfather.
Similarly, Bill Clinton’s middle name (he was born William Jefferson Blythe III) honored his father and grandfather, not the slaveholder president whose job he would someday fill.
Obviously, birth names don’t reflect a person’s character, identity, or political priorities. Listing full names of politicians – even those with hot-button middle names – shouldn’t be controversial, but that’s not how modern American politics works.
So the Democratic Party and liberal media voices cried foul every time a conservative would use Obama’s full name, calling it “a rallying cry for bigots.” And indeed, saying “Hussein Obama” was unseemly, since evoking Iraq’s ruthless dictator reinforced suspicions that Obama was a Muslim or at least a sympathizer.
But now Democrats are doing the same thing by using the attorney general’s name to perpetuate his false reputation as a racist Southerner. Saying “Jefferson Beauregard” is not just school-yard politics; it is identity bashing at its worst. Just as identities liberals celebrate – Latinos, lesbians, labor unionists – deserve respect, so do identities they disdain – gun owners, Evangelicals, (white) Southerners.
Name mockery is actually a hoary entry in the Democrat playbook, and it wasn’t OK in the 1988 presidential campaign, either. That year, Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis repeatedly called his opponent’s running mate “J. Danforth Quayle” in an attempt to paint him as wealthy and out-of-touch (though Dukakis VP Lloyd Bentsen was far wealthier).
With Sessions, it’s bad enough Facebook and Twitter users are giving him the Hussein treatment. Sadly, more respectable Web sites and even Daily Kos and Huffington Post are using the very tactic they denounced when conservatives did it.
I can’t believe I have to say this, but nobody chooses his birth name. If you see a chance to reinforce stereotypes about someone you don’t like by mocking their name, keep your mouth shut – especially if only recently you objected when people did that to someone you do like.