Republican to discuss artists’ role in homeland security at SXSW festival

From John Lennon’s famous peace chant to Rage Against the Machine’s angry rants against injustice and corruption, musicians have long tried to inspire social change.

Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas). (Photo: David J. Phillip/AP). Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Tex.). (David J. Phillip/AP)

Republican Rep. Mike McCaul (Texas) wants more artists to direct that energy toward homeland security, and he plans to take his message to the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tex., this weekend.

“I think Western music could have an influence in countries where people otherwise don’t want to listen to us,” the lawmaker said in an interview Thursday. “We need a combination of hard and soft power, and I think the music piece goes to that soft-power idea.”

McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, plans to deliver his remarks on the artist’s role in promoting democracy Saturday at the Austin Convention Center.

His upcoming speech conjures memories of a similar talk by Gen. Keith Alexander, head of the National Security Agency, who tried last summer to sell a skeptical crowd of hackers on supporting the government’s surveillance and cybersecurity programs.

McCaul acknowledged that the SXSW audience might respond tepidly to a Republican speaking at the festival, but he said his interest in reaching out is “genuine and sincere.”

“Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, I saw the power of music and how it can impact society,” he said. “I just think as I deal with these threats that I’m briefed on from more radical parts of world, that if some of the extremists out there listened to our music, then it might have an effect. This music event brings in hundreds of bands from all over the world, so it is a global event, and music is important globally.”

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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