To make it clear.... it wasn't just that Bill Cunningham used Barack HUSSEIN Obama's middle name over and over and over again when introducing John McCain today in Cincinnati...

"Well my friends now we have a hack, Chicago-style Daley politician who is picturing himself as change. When he gets done with you, all you’re going to have in your pocket is change..."

McCain was aghast; his apology was abject, according to CBS's Dante Higgins.

I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans. We just have strong philosophical differences. And so I want to disassociate myself from any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them.I have never met Mr. Cunningham but I will certainly make sure that nothing like that happens ever again."

An Obama spokesman later responded in kind: "We appreciate Senator McCain’s remarks. It is a sign that if there is a McCain-Obama general election, it can be intensely competitive but the candidates will attempt to keep it respectful and focused on issues."

True that.

But the incident -- I'll call it an incident to give it a sinister cast -- deserves to be put in some context. Some conservative talk radio hosts and activists like to use Obama's middle name in order to highlight his... foreignness? otherness? crypto-Islamist-ness? -- something... fairly regularly. Because "Hussein" happens to be a very common name in what the Brits call Asia, and it happens to be the family name of the Iraqi leader who, well, you know..., it has acquired the motive force of a direct, ethnically-tinged insult. Today, McCain has disassociated himself from all of that.

Going forward, McCain has vowed to better vet those who will introduce him. That will be hard. The White House has an entire department of folks whose job it is to make sure that no one who appears with the President will embarrass him.

These days, the GOP has a complex relationship with race, and the Republican whose job it is to beat the first black nominee of a major party with a middle of Hussein has a particularly sensitive mission.

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