Opinion: Obama vs. Osama? Barack elaborates


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As gaffes go, the one Mitt Romney committed earlier this week -- twice invoking Barack Obama’s name when he meant terrorist leader Osama bin Laden -- was in a league of its own. So it is not surprising that during a voter forum in Dover, N.H., Wednesday evening, Obama was asked a question inspired by the faux pas.

Initially, the Democratic presidential candidate responded with humor. But in replying to a related query about rough-and-tumble politics, he warmed to the subject. First, he offered a sports analogy. Then, he patted himself on the back for his success in Illinois. Finally, he addressed directly what is often unspoken about his campaign -- the challenges posed by his name and his bi-racial background.


The Times’ Michael Finnegan was at the forum, and he reports that a man in the audience asked Obama to cite the differences between himself and Bin Laden.

As laughter filled the high school gymnasium, Obama said, ‘You know, Mitt Romney’s been very confused about this. I have a lot of trouble growing a beard. I don’t have a lot of facial hair. So that’s, I guess, a good place to start. He lives in a cave.’

Moments later ...

a supporter in the bleachers told Obama, ‘Watch your back.’

Referring to the still-controversial attacks in the 2004 presidential campaign on John Kerry’s military record, she went on: ‘I don’t want you to be Swift-boated. Here’s my nightmare: that your campaign is turned by the Republicans into a minstrel show. How will you avoid that?’

He drew upon his style of play on the basketball court to assure his listeners he would be up to the task. ‘I’m skinny. But the people I play with will tell you that I don’t mind going down low and throwing elbows.’

He told the crowd that he knew nobody in Chicago when he moved there in the 1980s but became, he asserted, ‘the most popular politician in Illinois’ in 20 years.

Obama continued: ‘Those of you not familiar with Chicago, Chicago does not have the cleanest politics, and yet I was able to rise to the top of the political heap without ever compromising my integrity, without having some ward heeler’s sponsorship, and that requires some toughness.’


Coming back to the Romney remark, Obama left his crowd with this thought: ‘I have no doubt there will be some of that; trying to make me into this foreign, clearly black person, and to scare people. But here’s what I found out, and this is my faith in the American people -- when people try to Swift-boat you, you have to respond forcefully, you have to respond immediately, and you have to respond truthfully. See, what you don’t want to do is get in the gutter, and go and answer a lie with a lie. You have to answer a lie with the truth.’

And, of course, it helps to keep the names straight.

-- Don Frederick