With 'Banner' Rhetoric, Bush Sings a New Tune

The controversy about "Nuestro Himno"— the Spanish-language version of the "Star-Spangled Banner" — won't go away. Today in The New York Times Kelefa Sanneh writes about the revised anthem in the historical context of protest songs.

As a political reporter, I found the most interesting wrinkle in the story to be President Bush's decision to criticize the song, allying himself with the conservative talk show hosts who object to "Nuestro Himno." This is a politician who once made a mantra out of "family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River." He made immigration the symbol of his "compassionate conservatism" and the centerpiece of his outreach to Hispanic voters. So his comments on Friday were jarring. But the president is walking a fine line — trying to push an immigration bill that includes a path to legalization for undocumented workers (amnesty to its opponents), while not losing the conservative base that is furious about illegal immigration.

Which raises an interesting political question: politicians who try to reach out to a new voting group usually change the tone of their rhetoric before they change the substance of their polices. (Think: Bush #1's "kinder-and-gentler" break with Ronald Reagan or George W's "government-is-not-the-problem" break with Gingrich Republicans.)

But here the president seems to be trying to do the opposite — by softening the substance of policy (by pushing legalization) while making his rhetoric harsher. Can this work?

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