Common, the Greatest Living Threat to American Freedom

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
May 11 2011 8:06 AM

Common, the Greatest Living Threat to American Freedom

Mike Burns wraps up the story that mostly serves to prove that the Osama bin Laden news cycle is over; we are back to this . The Fox Nation story on the affair gives us the basics:

[Common] is quite controversial, in part because his poetry includes threats to shoot police and at least one passage calling for the "burn[ing]" of then-President George W. Bush.

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The "threats to shoot police" aren't exactly explicit. "Cop Killer," in which Ice-T describes the implements he'll use to, well, kill a cop. Explicit. "A Letter to the Law," the poem in question here? We have "Tell the law, my Uzi weighs a ton/ I walk like a warrior, from them I won’t run." I'm not even sure "burn a Bush" is a call to set the 43rd president on fire, because "burn" can just mean "diss."

Adam Serwer makes the pretty obvious point that a first-person rap lyric isn't the same thing as a pure expression of beliefs. True enough, just as putting a target on a political map doesn't mean you want people to see the map and fire bullets at politicians. But Big Government goes deeper , finding a 2008 poem at Jeremiah Wright's church and a 2005 interview in which Common says black men should date black women. And at that point, the story/scandal becomes "Should you be permitted to perform at the White House if you've said something racist or hobnobbed with someone who does that?" The safe position here is probably "yes." Who wants entertainers to be scanned for crimethink if they're merely appearing at an event? This isn't like Amiri Baraka, as the poet laureate of New Jersey, writing a poem about Jews being tipped off before the 9/11 attacks. This is a one-time event, one that probably won't become a scene for ambiguous anti-law enforcement poems.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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