White House Defends Invite To Rapper Common

citizen | 5/17/2011, 9:30 a.m.
by Darlene Superville and Nancy Benac...
Common, a Chicago-born rapper whose work has praised Obama, also has appeared in films including ``Date Night'' and ``Terminator Salvation.'' Photo Steve Nguyen

by Darlene Superville and Nancy Benac

WASHINGTON (AP) - Michelle Obama's evening of poetry at the White House set off Republican critics before the artists had uttered a word.

The first lady invited prominent writers, musicians and a rapper to perform Wednesday night to showcase the impact of poetry on American culture. Poetry, she said at an afternoon workshop, helps us see the world in an entirely different way.

The invited performers include former poets laureate Billy Collins and Rita Dove, Elizabeth Alexander, who wrote and delivered the poem at President Barack Obama's inauguration, and musicians such as singers Aimee Mann and Jill Scott.

But it was the inclusion of Grammy Award-winning rapper and actor Common that set off Republican complaints. Common, who is considered fairly tame as rappers go, is known for rhymes that tend to be socially and politically conscious.

Karl Rove, who worked in the White House for President George W. Bush, labeled Common a thug and said on Fox News Channel that the performer had advocated assassinating Bush and violence against police. Rove added that the White House decision to include Common in the event speaks volumes about President Obama and the White House staff.

Sarah Palin, for her part, tweeted, Oh lovely, White House ... and provided the link to an article critical of the decision.

Common, born Lonnie Rashin Lynn Jr., took the criticism in stride, tweeting back, So apparently Sarah Palin and Fox News doesn't like me. Later, he added a Facebook post in which he said, "Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I respect that. The one thing that shouldn't be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day. Peace yall!

Rove's reference to Common's rap about Bush was based on lyrics criticizing the Iraq war that included the line: Burn a Bush cos for peace he no push no button.

White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the decision to invite him and said reports about Common were deliberately being distorted.

Carney said the president has spoken out forcefully against violent and misogynistic music lyrics and has a strong record of support for law enforcement.

I would say that, while the president doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for, more broadly, in order to stoke controversy, Carney said.

He said Fox News Channel just six months ago had described Common as a rap legend.

One of the things the president appreciates is the work Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially in Chicago, trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street, Carney said.

Michelle Obama did not address the criticism during afternoon remarks at a workshop with some of the artists for dozens of students invited in from around the country. Common and Scott did not participate in the workshop.