Sunday, April 4, 2004

For a year or so now, I’ve been waking to a ton of e-mails each morning with the subject marked “Bush lied” — or, to be more precise, “Bush lied” followed by multiple exclamation points.

I’m not one who thinks it helpful to characterize a policy difference as a “lie.” So, when John Kerry says he supports the Kyoto Treaty even though he voted for a bill that declared the United States would never ever ratify it, that doesn’t mean he’s a “liar,” it just means that … well, to be honest, I haven’t a clue what it means. You better to take it up with him, now he’s out of the hospital after elective surgery.

“Elective surgery” means you vote to have the operation, and then spend the next year insisting you’ve always been strongly opposed to the operation.

Anyway, as I said, I wouldn’t call Mr. Kerry a liar. But I did get the vague feeling in the following exchange that, if it had gone on a minute or two longer, the candidate’s nose would have cracked my TV screen, extended across the coffee table and pinned me to the wall.

The time —last week; the place — MTV. The interviewer asks: “Well, we know that you were into rock ‘n’ roll when you were in high school, and we know that you play the guitar now. Are there any trends out there in music, or even in popular culture in general, that have piqued your interest?”

“Oh sure. I follow and I’m interested,” says John Kerry. “I’m fascinated by rap and by hip-hop. I think there’s a lot of poetry in it. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it. And I think you’d better listen to it pretty carefully, ‘cause it’s important. … I’m still listening because I know that it’s a reflection of the street and it’s a reflection of life.”

Really? You’re “fascinated” by rap and “listening” to hip-hop? You’re America’s first flip-flopper hip-hopper?

The best riposte to Mr. Kerry came from an encounter a few years ago between his predecessor Al Gore and Courtney Love, lead singer of the popular beat combo Hole, when they chanced to run into each other at a Hollywood Democratic party night.

“I’m a really big fan,” gushed the vice president.

“Yeah, right. Name a song,” scoffed Miss Love. The panicked vice panderer floundered helplessly. Fortunately, his Secret Service guys moved in before he wound up completely riddled by Hole. As wise old campaign consultants always say, the politician’s First Rule of Holes is: When you’re in one, stop digging. Al introduced us to a Second Rule: When you’re with one, stop pretending to dig her.

If only that MTV guy had said to Mr. Kerry, “Yeah, right. Name a song.” Think Mr. Kerry could have? Reckon if you bust into his pad and riffled through his and Teresa’s CD collection you’d find a single rap album? Of course, you wouldn’t find any in George and Laura’s CD collection either. The difference is President Bush doesn’t feel the need to pretend.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t either. Interviewed by disc-jockeys on London radio stations and invited to name her favorite pop song, she would choose the Beverly Sisters’ British cover version of “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” or the Australian didgeridoo virtuoso Rolf Harris’ “Two Little Boys.” The title of “How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?” is the very definition of compassionate conservatism — the vocalist’s compassion for the confined puppy shrewdly tempered by cost-benefit analysis. As for “Two Little Boys,” that was written in 1902 and seemed kinda hokey even then:

Two Little Boys

Had two little toys

Each had a wooden horse

Gaily they’d play

Each summer’s day

Warriors both of course … .

To the old taunt “Be there or be square”, Mrs. Thatcher replies, “Go ahead, punk/hip-hopper/techno-industrial-garage-house-wraparound-porch beatnik, make my day. I’ll be there and be square.” That’s much cooler than a 60-year-old botoxicated Brahmin from the U.S. Senate recycling 20-year-old cliches about rap being the authentic voice of the streets.

By comparison, here’s Texas Gov. George Bush four years ago being given a “verbal Rorschach” test on American pop culture by Glamour Magazine: What comes to mind, David France wanted to know, when you think of Madonna?

“I’m not into pop music,” replied Mr. Bush.

Boy, that MTV special would have been a short one. Stunned by the candidate’s ignorance, Maureen Dowd, the New York Times’ elderly schoolgirl, wrote a column mocking him for never having heard of “Sex And The City,” beginning as follows:

“W. may have gone too far this time.

“Americans can forgive him not knowing that Gen. Pervez Musharraf seized power in Pakistan.

“But can we forgive him not knowing that Sarah Jessica Parker quaffs Cosmopolitans in Manhattan?”

Answer: Yes. Unlike Ms. Dowd, Americans apparently are willing to cut him some slack on this vital question. Some may even feel that his cheerful admission that “I’m not into pop music” is the sign of a man secure in his sense of himself.

This isn’t entirely a matter of trivialities. The fads and fashions of the world aren’t confined to the Billboard Hot 100. All over the planet, men in late middle age are pretending to like stuff just ‘cause it’s what the likes of Maureen Dowd tell them people want to hear. John Kerry pretends to like gangsta rap. Russia pretends it supports the Kyoto Accord. The European Union pretends Yasser Arafat is committed to peace with Israel. The Security Council pretends its resolutions mean something. Kofi Annan pretends the Oil-for-Fraud program is a humanitarian aid effort for the Iraqi people. The International Atomic Energy Authority pretends the mullahs in Tehran are good faith negotiators on the matter of Iranian nukes.

It’s easy to pander to fashion, whether on pop music, the environment, the Middle East “peace process” or sentimental transnationalism. But on MTV, Mr. Kerry wasn’t done yet. After coming out for hip-hop, he managed to blame the Bush administration’s “behavior” for making terrorists become terrorists. I guess terrorism’s just a “reflection of the street,” too. Doubtless there’s “a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it.” The MTV crowd loved the line, and no doubt Jacques Chirac and the Arab League will as well.

Welcome to John Kerry’s hip-hop foreign policy: Ask the multilateral gang what’s hip, and hop to it.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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