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Correction to This Article
A Jan. 22 Style article about "People Got to Be Free," a 1968 song by the Rascals, referred incorrectly to the date of the death of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. The senator was assassinated in June of that year.
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Sweet Lyrics of Liberty

Rascals (spoken): "See that train over there? That's the train of freedom! It's about to 'rive any minute now. You know it's been a long, long overdue. Look out 'cause it's a-comin' right on through."

Bush (spoken): "By our efforts we have lit a fire . . . in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."

Bush: "Eventually the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul." (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)


Okay, sure. Although Bush and speechwriter Michael Gerson probably know their '60s pop, they undoubtedly had something a little more high-toned than the Top 40 in mind when crafting the inaugural speech.

On the other hand, not so fast. By way of historical context: "People Got to Be Free" entered the charts in July 1968, three months after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated, and the country was deeply divided over the president's handling of a war in a distant land. Felix Cavaliere, the Rascals' leader and co-writer of "People" with singer Eddie Brigati, was setting the song in this political context. In fact, he had worked in RFK's presidential campaign. (Cavaliere, who still performs, was traveling in Israel yesterday and couldn't be reached, according to his manager.)

Historian Douglas Brinkley points out that Bush's use of "freedom" as political rhetoric pulls a fast one on liberals. The word had mostly been adopted by Democratic and progressive movements. Think of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms," Brinkley said, or the "Freedom Rides" into the segregated South during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, or the "freedom movement" to end the Vietnam War in the same period.

But Brinkley, whose book on John Kerry's Vietnam service, "Tour of Duty," became grist for a conservative attack on the Democratic candidate during the presidential campaign, says conservatives have given the word a different spin.

"The right has hijacked the word 'freedom' from the progressive movement," he said. "It's now becoming associated with the global liberation policy of the Republican Party. The left hasn't put up much of a fight to stop it."

It seems unlikely that Bush will return to the Rascals canon for future speeches. But How Can I Be Sure he won't be Groovin' again?

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