The Obama Watch

Obam-La-Di, Obam-La-Da

Why can't Paul McCartney let life go on?

By 6.8.10

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In the grand scheme of things there were far more egregious things said last week than Sir Paul McCartney's assertion that former President George W. Bush didn't know what a library was after receiving the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song.

In the wake of the flotilla incident one can take far greater umbrage towards Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's assertion that he "does not see Hamas as a terror organization." It certainly wasn't nearly as offensive as White House Press Corps doyen Helen Thomas' edict that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and to "go home" to Poland and Germany. Or should I say ex-White House Press Corps doyen? Unlike Thomas, McCartney certainly hasn't sung his last song.

Yet the former Beatle's quip merits some scrutiny. At best, his comment is borne of ignorance. Given former First Lady Laura Bush's background as a librarian, the Bushes have been stalwart supporters of public libraries. In fact, federal funding for public libraries increased 30% during the Bush presidency. At worst, his comment is steeped in maliciousness. Of course, Sir Paul is entitled to his opinion of George W. Bush and is free to express that opinion if he so wishes. But just because he can doesn't mean he should.

Now one can make the case that McCartney is just the latest in the long line of celebrities who have made derisive comments about the 43rd President. Why then should I be surprised at his outburst? Yet I am very surprised he would say such a thing. Frankly, I expected more of him than I would say Sean Penn or Susan Sarandon.

I have had the privilege of seeing McCartney perform in concert on two occasions. Most recently, I saw Macca play at Fenway Park in Boston last August with my roommate Christopher. A splendid time was had by all. McCartney played well over thirty songs including two encores and did so with an energy and enthusiasm of a man at least half his age. When it comes to playing his music he is certainly not half the man he used to be.

Before McCartney played "Blackbird" he said he had written it in response to racial tensions that were going on in the United States in the late 1960s and that "Blackbird" actually represented a black girl. He made an oblique reference to Obama in that things had come a very long way in America since then. If McCartney had any animosity towards George W. Bush or anyone else in the world that night he just let it be.

McCartney is certainly no stranger to political activism. He is well known for his advocacy of vegetarianism and animal rights and has been a supporter of organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). McCartney is also known for his support for the banning of landmines. Whatever one might think of the causes he chooses to associate himself with he has generally done so in a positive manner.

You might recall when McCartney and his then wife Heather Mills debated Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, on Larry King Live in March 2006 over the commercial seal hunt in Canada. While Mills behaved belligerently McCartney tried to maintain a civil discourse with Williams. Soon after that appearance McCartney and Mills would head for divorce court.

It is also worth remembering that McCartney would play in Israel in September 2008 despite being on the receiving end of death threats from Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Muslim cleric once based in London now living in Lebanon. Calling McCartney "the enemy of every Muslim", Mohammed stated, "If he values his life, Mr. McCartney must not come to Israel. He will not be safe there."

Undeterred, McCartney played in Tel Aviv where again a splendid time was had by all. The fact that McCartney played in Israel at all is significant in light of the recent decision of his friend and occasional musical collaborator Elvis Costello to cancel tour dates in the Jewish State this summer.

Before the show, McCartney visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and stated, "All we need is peace in the region and a two-state solution." McCartney might be shocked to know that he and Bush are in agreement on a two-state solution. During a speech in the Rose Garden in June 2002, Bush stated, "My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security."

So in light of McCartney's generally sunny disposition and even tempered approach to his political activity his denigration of Bush seemed both out of character and out of place.

But given that McCartney articulated his disdain for Bush in the presence of Obama and his family I wonder how the First Family reacted since the camera did not pan to them after his remark. So unlike Jerry Seinfeld, we don't know if President Obama and the First Lady laughed, applauded or fist pumped in approval of McCartney's dig at Bush. But given President Obama's own repeated barbs at his predecessor, what else are we to think?

As for me, this episode doesn't mean I'll never listen to the Beatles, Wings or McCartney's solo material again. However, I might have second thoughts about spending a couple of hundred dollars to see McCartney in concert. Whatever my disappointment, life will go on -- Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da. Or rather, Obam-La-Di, Obam-La-Da.


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About the Author
Aaron Goldstein writes from Boston, Massachusetts.