What Hip-Hop Culture Can Teach Political Culture

Two weeks ago, hip-hop culture experienced a spectacle that has not been of frequent occurrence since the 1990s.  Compton lyricist Kendrick Lamar released a verse calling out the names of today’s most respected hip-hop artists in an attempt to announce his candidacy as today’s best rapper.  While most of the artists named are friends of Kendrick, his challenge served as a competitive spark that has been absent from hip-hop for years.

This drought of openly naming one’s contenders to initiate a discussion is paralleled in today’s political arena.  It seems as though it has become politically unacceptable for members of Congress and even the President to overtly challenge one another for the sake of progress.  The nation has witnessed four and a half years of partisan opposition to virtually every objective on President Obama’s agenda.  During the multiple debt-ceiling debates, for example, Democrats and Republicans both shot subtle quips calling on the other party to “take action.”

Such subtly has no place in American politics, where domestic affairs—from economic to social policy—still need vast improvement.  President Obama has the ability to name the individuals who have devoted their time to obstruction rather than progress.  And, if he foregoes this option, the American people may not truly grasp the reality of Republican dedication to obstruction—just take a look at the number of times House Republicans have attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a law that paved the way to health coverage for tens of millions of Americans already.

Moreover, Republicans in the Senate have set a record when it comes to the filibuster.  Of course, this means there are fewer pieces of legislation that have a chance of being substantively debated, revised, and passed.  For the politically savvy, it is quite clear that such stalemate would be the result of record-high filibusters.  But the average American voter may not know the ins-and-outs of the legislative process.

And this is where Kendrick Lamar’s frankness can assist.  If President Obama and his Democratic colleagues begin to directly associate legislative congestion with their Republican counterparts—be it filibustering, disruptive rhetoric, or votes to repeal progress—they can force the GOP to embrace cooperation and bipartisanship.  Just as Kendrick’s vicious hip-hop verse inspired his peers to become better, President Obama’s dynamic words can inspire better public policy.

Put simply, President Obama should not be afraid to name the faces of obstruction.  The American people appreciate transparency, openness, and most of all effectiveness.  Americans want a functioning government, and perhaps the pressure of being named as a source of hindrance is the spark the GOP needs.

The reaction to Kendrick’s verse was astronomical; he elicited response songs from other competitive hip-hop artists and even praise from radio DJs around the nation for generating conversation.  President Obama’s stern rhetoric in the name of progress would elicit the same praise from the American people, and more importantly, substantive debate from across the aisle.

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