A couple of them changed the course of their lives with his help. But when gunfire and drugs are the norm, when friends get killed and poor schools for most are standard, when police are seen as both friend and foe — and when all of this happens while television portrays lifestyles of ease and comfort just miles from your home but light years from your reality — hostility and anger are expected responses. As the court jester of rap, Flava Flav, once shouted into the mic, “I got a right to be hostile. My people have been persecuted.”
It is a testament to God and human resilience that people emerge from these environments and are not hostile. Blaming an artist whose work constructively tells the story of that pain and a too often indifferent government is certainly not the most constructive way to address it. The truth is that this conflict is not about Common as much as it is an attempt to drag the president back into the “past associations” controversies of the 2008 presidential campaign. Sarah Palin said it herself on Fox: “Who are you palling around with now?”
The ploy won’t work this time. Barack Obama is a far better-known quantity, the American people are much more concerned about getting paid to work than with a poet’s verse, and the conservatives picked on the wrong poet. This one makes too much common sense.
Jamal Simmons, a former adviser to several Democratic presidential candidates, is a nationally known political analyst. He is a principal at the Raben Group in Washington, D.C.