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What’s in a name? Plenty

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POSTED: October 31, 2007 5:00 a.m.

Where is the Hick Anti-Defamation League now that we need them? What has happened to the HADL passion?

Hardly anybody has uttered a protest. The smartest political spin doctor in America has called former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s surname his greatest obstacle to winning the GOP presidential nomination: Huckabee is too hick-sounding for most Americans.

"Politics can be fickle like that. I mean you’re trying to get somebody’s attention for the first time … ‘Huckabee’? You’ve got to be kidding me," Dan Bartlett, President Bush’s former communications director, fulminated recently.

In an address to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Bartlett, whose ability to make citizens believe almost anything is unquestioned, said not even he could overcome the Huckabee problem. "I hate to be so light about it," he smiled. "But it is an issue."

Nary a sound of dissent was heard. Sure, everybody in the Northeast Corridor knows "Huckabee" is a hick name. No argument about it. Bartlett knows what he’s talking about. Let’s move right along.

Yet, back here in the backwater South - which happens to be GOP Central these days - I doubt many folks think that "Huckabee" is anything but a symbol of honor and tradition.

One of the smartest guys in Georgia government (now retired) was Hank Huckaby (different spelling), Gov. Zell Miller’s budget director and later UGA’s vice president for finance. I don’t know anyone who ever suggested that Hank, a generally erudite guy, was a hick or a bubba or a boob - even if both his nickname and surname apparently qualify for Bartlett’s redneck list.

As the Republican field goes, Huckabee, the presidential candidate, comes across as a pretty bright guy, though he is definitely a second-tier candidate.

Besides, if names were so all-important, how would you explain that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is a front-runner in many parts of the South?

Where I come from, "Giuliani" is a real knee-slapper name - a handle that one of Al Capone’s cousins or a close associate of Uncle Junior might have.

But you’d never stand up in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and say, "Hey, we can’t elect a guy whose name sounds as if he heads up one of the Five Families, not to mention all his other baggage. So what if he stood on a pile of debris at Ground Zero and waved after 9/11? His name is still Giuliani. We just don’t vote for people with names like that. No one whose name ends in ‘i’ ever gets elected to an important office in the South. That’s just the way things are. Giuliani? You have got to be kidding me."

I would never say a thing like that, even if it’s true. First, it’s rude and bigoted and offensive to make fun of someone’s name. Second, the National Italian American Foundation would howl, as they should.

So who gave Bartlett a license to take a free shot at poor Mike Huckabee? No one. It’s just that Southerners and their names are not on the national sensitivity list.

You can say anything about a bubba and get by with it. We know that just about all Southerners are stupid and racists and have potbellies and eat possum. Movies and TV tell us that all the time. And don’t forget your inoculations before attending the next NASCAR event.

Perhaps even worse is that some of our own politicians insist on reinforcing the backwoods stereotype with bids for governor based on saving the Confederate battle flag or sponsoring laws openly aimed at holding down black voter turnout.

Suppose Barack Obama or John Edwards had used the same language as Republican Bartlett in describing Huckabee? Rush Limbaugh would have had apoplexy right in front of his microphone.

Of course, Giuliani and Huckabee do not have the corner on funny names in the presidential race.

Come to think of it, Hillary is kind of an odd name for the likely next president.

I have a granddaughter named Hillary. No, she wasn’t named for President Clinton’s wife. She was named for Sir Edmund Hillary, the conqueror of Mount Everest. I know what you’re thinking, but I don’t know the answer either.

P.S. The big name brouhaha for this cycle will come when Americans elect a Clinton, but inaugurate a Rodham. Just you wait.

 

 

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net.

 

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