Name That Tune

Posted September 10, 2003 at 6:30pm

With Howard Dean (D) locked in a holy war with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) over Mideast peace, was it such a good idea for the former Vermont governor to say his favorite tune was one that includes the line, “Are you scared to say you’re with Israel?”

When the nine Democrats were asked to name their best-loved song at Tuesday night’s presidential debate, Dean warned that nobody would recognize it: “Jaspora” by hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean.

For the uninitiated, Jean

is a guitarist from Haiti who has said he’s out to prove he’s “not only a player but a g-damned revolutionary,” according to Rolling Stone magazine. That certainly sounds like the insurgent Dean.

But how did Dean come up with this tune, especially when many of the candidates stuck with mainstream pop artists: Lieberman chose Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” while Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) both chose songs by Bruce Springsteen.

Certainly some eyebrows were raised when staid old Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) cited the song “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” by his friend Jimmy Buffett. That ditty includes the lyric, “Ran into a chum with a bottle of rum, and we wound up drinkin’ all night.”

But Dean’s choice was particularly intriguing. “I do think it’s a little surprising — it’s a really obscure song,” said Ed Morales, a music critic for Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. He speculated that since the song is performed in Creole, Dean was possibly attracted by the “fun, tropical” aspect and not the lyrics.

“Jaspora” is Creole for Diaspora, the term used by African descendants to describe their fragmented communities in the New World.

“It’s probably about the general ambiance of the song and wanting to groove with someone like Wyclef, who is sort of doing an updated version of Bob Marley,” Morales, author of the forthcoming book “The Latin Beat,” said of Dean’s interest.

“Bob Marley’s message was very Utopian — a unity between all peoples,” he said. “I do think that gives him a level of credibility of being in touch with the urban reality, even though he was governor of Vermont.”

Jean’s album features another song titled “Gunpowder” that fits well with Dean’s anti-war message with lyrics like, “We can’t stop the violence/Because the war is not over.”

According to the English translation, the song “Jaspora” has two lyrics mentioning Israel: “Why do Jamaicans always say they are Jamaicans, but Haitians are afraid to say they are Haitians? … Why? Are you scared to say you’re with Israel?”

And then the song continues: “Here, Diaspora men want to take you to hotels, Start talking English, turning to Playboy Channel/They do not respect Israel.”

Morales explained, “The Rastafarians consider themselves to be the lost tribe of Israel. It might be a reference to women from the West Indies who come to America and may have to do questionable things for money.”

Sounds like politics after all.

Cummings for President? Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) got so giddy about hosting the presidential debate on Tuesday night that it sounds as if he’d like to become the 10th candidate in the field.

Cummings, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, suggested to a Baltimore radio station Wednesday morning that he has his eye on the White House.

“I listened to some of the candidates and said, ‘Boy, I wish I could be one of them,’” said Cummings, according to reddingnewsreview.com.

A Cummings aide clarified to HOH that the boss was “impressed with all of the candidates’ answers” at the debate.

But the aide proceeded to add that Cummings did feel that he could have done well on stage. “He felt that he could have answered the questions just as well, or better, than the candidates,” said the staffer, who stressed that the boss nonetheless has “no plans” to enter the field.

A source close to the caucus, though, did say that Cummings has received calls from supporters urging him to run in 2004 or down the road. So stay tuned.

Reform War. In a sign of just how testy some insiders are getting as they await the fate of the McCain-Feingold reform law, Rep. Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) is taking aim at Democratic election lawyer Bob Bauer.

Meehan was overheard on Monday musing that Bauer, who advises clients like Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), was spotted sitting with GOP election lawyer Ben Ginsburg at the Supreme Court during the oral arguments in McConnell v. FEC on Monday.

Meehan, one of the chief sponsors of the reform law up for review, griped that Bauer’s decision to sit with a Republican lawyer in the morning session proved he’s been hostile to the new law all along and hopes it collapses.

The Congressman told HOH on Wednesday that he was merely amused that Bauer, who believes the new law will hurt the Democratic Party, was showing his colors in his seat selection. “There’s a lack of bipartisanship in Washington, but not when it comes to the opponents of campaign finance reform,” he said.

But he stressed that Bauer’s efforts to kill the bill haven’t angered him. “We beat him on the issue,” Meehan said. “He worked hard to get the Democratic leadership to oppose this bill and they didn’t. So it certainly doesn’t irk me.”

Bauer did move during the afternoon session to sit next to Rick Hasen, a pro-reform scholar from California. And the lawyer said he doubts that his seating assignments will have any influence on the high court anyway.

“I am flattered that the Congressman noticed that I was there,” Bauer told HOH. “But he needn’t be concerned, because I am reasonably certain that none of the Justices spotted me.”

Trading Spaces. While CNN has been lavishing plenty of cash on programming and sets for its folks in New York, the network honchos are finally throwing the D.C. bureau a bone.

Kathryn Kross, chief of CNN’s Washington bureau, is leading an extensive renovation of the network’s ancient digs behind Union Station that will culminate Friday night with a big bash featuring its stars.

“We had a newsroom modeled on an old metropolitan newspaper,” Kross said during a tour of the bureau this week. “We blew out the offices — they were so ’80s.”

Rival networks have been snickering for some time that the programming has been stuck in a previous decade as well, which may be one reason that CNN has been suffering through a difficult ratings slide.

But Kross said the renovations are part of a general injection of “energy” at the network, which has included new shows that give viewers a “comfortable, familiar place to go.”

The upgrades include a rejiggering of the newsroom to create a new studio that will have a killer view of the Capitol as its backdrop, though it’s unclear why the network didn’t think of this sooner.

“It’s crazy not to use it,” Kross said, adding that it might become “our breaking news backdrop” in the near future. She noted that the cost was “not outrageously expensive.”

The changes include bigger editing rooms to give correspondents and producers more space to be creative, as well as an open feel to the newsroom that includes a cafe. “Call it the Starbucks influence,” she said.

Nevertheless, there has been giggling among some CNN folks that the updated newsroom looks a bit like the “helm of the Starship Enterprise,” according to one insider.

Grilling the EEOC. With Republicans running both chambers of Congress, officials at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may want to be a little bit more responsive to requests from GOP aides these days.

One House GOP aide, who insisted on anonymity for his boss, was frustrated by the response he received after calling the EEOC to seek help for a constituent last Thursday. An EEOC official said that with the Washington Redskins kicking off the NFL season that evening, nobody was in the office to help.

In fairness to the EEOC, government officials were encouraged to stay home because of the traffic snarl caused by the game and the festivities on the Mall. But Hill staffers don’t like to wait, regardless of the circumstances.

“Remember, if [the] EEOC comes needing an emergency appropriation,” the GOP aide e-mailed a colleague, “it’s probably for a Hibachi grill to use while tailgating at FedEx Field.”