May 12, 2011— -- A White House event intended to be a celebration of poetry and the power of spoken word went off without a hitch Wednesday but enraged right-wing pundits upset over the invitation of the rapper and poet Common.
Common appeared at the "Evening of Poetry"event -- part of Michelle Obama's White House Music Series – where he recited some lines amidst piano accompaniment in front of the audience of children and adults.
Some critics of Common's participation in the White House event, which also featured comic and writer Steve Martin and singer Aimee Mann, were upset that the rapper has slammed former President George W. Bush in his poetry.
President Obama avoided mention of the controversy surrounding Common's participation as he welcomed the audience to the White House event.
Common is hardly one of America's most controversial rappers; aside from appearing in a number of Hollywood films and on a track with boy band the Jonas Brothers, he has also released a number of albums since the early 1990s featuring songs focusing generally on love, fatherhood, and improving the state of black America.
But he doesn't shy away from touching a nerve.
The rapper's controversial rhyme -- "Why they messing with Saddam? / burn a bush cos' for peace he no push no button / killing over oil and grease / no weapons of destruction" -- is from his poem "Letter to the Law," which he recited on a 2007 episode of HBO's "Def Poetry." It has now led some pundits to ask how appropriate it was for the White House to host the "vile" and "rapper"
During an appearance on Fox News' "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren" Wednesday night Sarah Palin sounded off about Common's White House invitation.
"The judgment is just so lacking of class and decency and all that's good about America with an invite like this," Palin said. "They're just inviting someone like me or someone else to ask, 'C'mon Barack Obama who are you palling around with now?'"
Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush, responded to the controversy on the radio program "The Sean Hannity Show" on Tuesday.
"Yes, let's invite a misogynist to the White House, a guy who's called for violence against police officers, and called for killing the former president of the United States George W. Bush," Rove said.
"This guy is a thug," Rove added. "And why they are inviting him to poetry night at the White House speaks volumes about President Obama and this White House staff. Who is asleep at the vetting desk?"
Common's lyrics and recent White House invitation have also enraged members of the police force. On the track "A Song for Assata" from 11 years ago Common praised a fugitive convicted of brutally murdering a state trooper in 1973:
"Shot twice wit her hands up/Police questioned but shot before she answered/One Panther lost his life, the other ran for his/Scandalous the police were as they kicked and beat her."
David Jones, the president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association was one to speak out against Common's inclusion at the event. Noting that the event falls during "Police Week" in Washington, D.C., Jones objected to Common's inclusion at the White House on Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor."
"We have this mutt, this nit-wit, this complete fraud, and that's what he is ... this is just an individual who absolutely has embraced this mentality of anti-establishment," Jones said Wednesday.
In response to criticism of his lyrics that deal with violence against and frustration with police officers, Common posted a message on his Facebook page: "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!"
Later Wednesday he added another note to his Facebook page: "I'm super geeked about performing at the White House tonight. I gotta bring it!"
The White House on Wednesday partly explained why an invitation was extended to Common, whose given name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.
"While the president doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. "One of the things the president appreciates is the work Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the streets."
During Wednesday's celebration, Common recited lyrics to a rap song in poem form, which tipped his hat to the nation's first African American president and started and ended with words of Martin Luther King, Jr. playing over the loud speaker.
"Thank you and God bless," Common said at the end of his poem, without referring to the controversy. "I appreciate being here."
After Steve Martin's band played following Common's performance, President Obama stood up, clapping, and then brought everyone back onstage, thanking all of the performers by name.
Before exiting the stage, Obama gave Common a big hug.