Bob Dylan Refuses to Endorse (or Oppose) Obama
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
So Dylan was badgered beyond belief to take a stand on behalf of our president. He refused to do it, although the Rolling Stone reporter seemed to regard his evasiveness as the equivalent of denying Our Lord far more than the Biblical number of times.
I should begin by emphasizing that this article celebrating Dylan's heroic elusiveness is found in Reason magazine. Reason, of course, is liberterian beyond reason, and so an equal disser of both the mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans. Its authors are characteristically almost fanatical in their defense of freedom of speech. So they're the guys who are all about admiring Dylan's proud refusal to be fashionably partisan, his refusal to deny or degrade his artistic freedom.
Dylan, of course, is merely being consistent here. The Sixties' Bob refused to involve himself in the various causes of the day, even to oppose the Vietnam War.
Dylan, of course, has admirable opinions. He gives a colorful and impassioned account of the harm slavery and racism has done to our country and the souls of our citizens.
The reporter interviewing him, Mikal Gilmore, seizes that moment to ask Dylan if Obama done a lot to remove that stain of racism, and if those who intransigently refuse to support the president do so because of their racism. Five times he tries to get Bob to give the correct answer, one which would divide Americans into Obama supporters and racists.
Two highlights of Bob's responses: Plenty of people always hate the incumbent president—often for disreputable reasons. And: Didn't people love the president when they elected him? Could it be racism, he implies, if they've changed their minds?
The badgering goes on and Dylan refuses to say whether or not he even likes the politics of the president, concluding: "He loves music. He's personable. He dresses good. What the fuck do you want me to say?" For myself, I'm pretty much a diehard Obama skeptic, but I agree fully he has those three positive qualities. And it's pretty obvious, of course, what Gilmore wanted Dylan to say. What lover of freedom can't love his refusal to say it?
In response to the question of whether he wants to see the president re-elected, Dylan astutely and evasively replies that being re-elected is hardly an accurate measure of how a president should be judged. Bad things happen to good presidents.
I could go on, but read the interview for yourself. I would have linked the whole interview, but it's not online yet. Get yourself to Barnes and Noble or whatever. Lots of wonderful and, yes, flaky moments that I can't talk about here.
I like the Reason author's conclusion: "It's amazing Gilmore didn't get that when it comes to praise for the president, it ain't Bob he's looking for."
Say what you will about Dylan's very uneven and incredibly prolific body of work, there's no doubt that he's a searcher and seeker, wondering and wandering in pursuit of the truth about his personal destiny in the context of the truth about all things. So his lyrics have often been all about religion—not fuzzy spirituality but the actual God of the Bible—with his thoughts often expressed tentatively or experimentally. And, truth to tell, his lyrics have been about just about everything else too. More than most poets, what Dylan thinks and feels changes significantly and often quite unexpectedly from time to time.
Dylan, to his credit, has consistently cared remarkably little about being witty or fashionable or playing in any way to the sophisticates or the politically correct.
Other artists, of course, much more readily take political stands, endorse candidates, perform at conventions and rallies, and all that—Springsteen and Eastwood immediately come to mind. But the artist's political opinions are typically the least interesting parts of his or her work. It's certainly the part that should be taken least seriously.
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