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Eminem and Ashcroft: Hail -- and Farewell

By Ciro Scotti May I have your attention please?

May I have your attention please?

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

I repeat, will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

We're gonna have a problem here.

-- From the Grammy-nominated Marshall Mathers L.P.

Marshall Bruce Mathers III, the blond, white rapper from Missouri who's also known as Eminem and Slim Shady, has a problem or two all right. But then, Missouri is fast-becoming the Show Me a Problem State.

The second-most-controversial character of 2001 also hails from Missouri and also has a problem or three. But the similarities between John Ashcroft, who was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General by 58 senators to 42 on Feb. 1, and Mather abruptly end there. Or do they?

NE'ER THE TWAIN...? Ashcroft is the God-fearing, nonsmoking, nondrinking, nondancing arm of Righteousness. He used to sing barbershop with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, but he don't do rap.

Eminem is the mom-hating, invective-spewing, expletive-stringing rap artist whom the staid National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) has nominated for a Grammy Award for album of the year. He don't do barbershop.

Ashcroft, 58, is a former attorney general of Missouri, a three-time governor of that state, and a one-term U.S. senator. He probably would be giving the Republicans a two-vote edge in the Senate today were it not for the untimely death of his opponent in last November's election, Mel Carnahan. With Carnahan's name still on the ballot, the dead candidate beat Ashcroft by a contestable margin that the senator did not contest, and the widow Carnahan was appointed to serve her husband's term.

Mather, 28, is a seemingly violence-prone poster boy for the alienated underclass who would likely have been left on the trailer-trash heap of society were it not for a sizeable talent and the intercession of rapper, producer, and impressario Dr. Dre.

As far as the family-values crowd is concerned, Ashcroft walks on water -- and Mather should be under water wearing lead sneakers. But beyond Missouri, they do intersect at a further point.

QUEER FEAR. Both Ashcroft and Mather are anathema to the gay and lesbian community. Mather for his brutally anti-gay lyrics that display a raw, street-ugly attitude, Ashcroft for his fundamentalist belief in the sinfulness of homosexuality, his rejection of the openly gay James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg under Clinton, and his purported questioning of a job applicant about his sexual orientation. Gay-rights groups have attacked President Bush over the Ashcroft nomination and railed against NARAS over the Mather nomination.

They're right about Ashcroft -- and wrong about Mather. Despite all the political windbaggery about a President being allowed to choose his own Cabinet, Ashcroft was never a good choice. The Ashcroft nomination -- sop to the religious right that it is -- sent the nation a message of divisiveness that undermines Bush's so-far-successful efforts at conciliation. It also didn't do much to attract gays to the Republican Party, which for many could be a natural political home. Man with a good heart or prude with a pinched soul, Ashcroft has baggage that should have been tagged and tossed on a train back to St. Louis.

Eminem, on the other hand, should get a Grammy. He's a canny poet of inner-city defeat and desperation. Yes, sometimes his words are hateful, but like folks who shout "we're here, and we're queer," Eminem speaks for a wounded segment of society. Despicable or not, he's an artist. And you can't defend freedom of expression for Robert Mappelthorpe with one hand and try to censor Marshall Mather with the other. Put a gag on Eminem? That's what John Ashcroft would want. Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online

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