White House Defends Invite of Political Rapper to Poetry Event

The White House on Wednesday defended the invitation sent by first lady Michelle Obama to rapper and actor Common to attend a poetry event amid backlash over some of his lyrics that critics say promote violence.

Common, whose real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., is not considered a gangsta rapper, but some of his songs and poems feature violent imagery.

In one poem, he called for the metaphorical burning of President George W. Bush -- a "burning Bush." And in a song, he praised convicted cop-killer and former Black Panther Assata Shakur.

"While the president doesn't support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think some of the reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for more broadly in order to stoke controversy," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday.

"He is within the genre of hip hop and rap in what's known as a conscious rapper," he said, adding that President Obama appreciates the way Common tries to get children to focus on poetry, "as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the street."

Carney cited a Fox News report from last October that described Common as a "rap legend" whose "music is very positive."

Carney added that he did not know whether the White House vetted the poetry to be recited at the reading Wednesday night.

"The fact is, Mr. Lynn has participated in other events in the past, including lighting the Christmas tree. I believe he's a multi-Grammy award-winning artist and he's been invited to this event about poetry," Carney said.

Some conservatives have howled in protest over Common's invite.

"Oh lovely, White House," Sarah Palin said sarcastically in a tweet.

Karl Rove, a former Bush senior adviser, called Common a "thug."

"President Obama last week said he wanted to recapture that special moment we had after 9/11 and here a week later we have an example of how the White House thinks it can recapture that moment by inviting a thug to the White House -- a man who called for the death of President Obama's predecessor," Rove told Fox News.

Common shrugged off the criticism.

"Politics is politics and everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I respect that," he said in a tweet. "The one thing that shouldn't be questioned is my support for the police officers and troops that protect us every day."

In a 2007 poem entitled "A Letter to the Law," Common railed against the U.S. invasion of Iraq invasion while urban areas were being neglected.

"Seeing a fiend being hung/With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?

"Burn a Bush cos' for peace he no push no button/Killing over oil and grease/no weapons of destruction."

In 2000, Common released an album that included the song, "A Song for Assata," in which he portrayed Shakur, formerly known as Joanne Chesimard, as standing up to an abusive and lawless police force.

"Your power and pride is beautiful," he raps. "May God bless your soul."

Shakur was convicted in the 1973 murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster. She escaped prison six years later and is now living under political asylum in Cuba.

Former New Jersey state trooper Sal Maggio, who is the vice president of the Former Troopers Association, told Fox News that he opposes the White House invite to Common on the same week that law enforcement officers are honoring their fallen comrades.

"He shouldn't be let into the White House," he said. "I don't think any time is right for a man like this who proposes violence toward police."

But Maggio said he thinks that the president and the first lady didn't know about the lyrics to this song.

Common has also defended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at the Obamas' church in Chicago who then-candidate Obama cut ties with after videos of his explosive sermons surfaced during the 2008 presidential campaign.

In the sermons, Wright accused the U.S. government of racism and in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. "America's chickens are coming home to roost" after it dropped atomic bombs on Japan and "supported state terrorism against Palestinians and black South Africans," Wright said at the time.

"He never really was against white people or another race," Common told Electronic Urban Report in 2008. "It was more against an establishment that was oppressing people. I think we all can see that this country has problems and a lot of it starts in the political system."

Common said during the 2008 presidential race that Wright's sermons were filled with love, not hate.

"What I picked up from the pews…was messages of love," he said. "Anything that was going on against that love he would acknowledge and expose. He's been a preacher that's helped raise one of the greatest political figures in the world, and hopefully, the next president. He's also raised one of the greatest rappers in the world."