Administration Is Singing More Than One Tune on Spanish Version of Anthem

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 3, 2006

President Bush declared last week that the national anthem should be sung in English not Spanish, but he evidently never told his own government or campaign organizations.

The State Department posts four Spanish versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on its Web site, and accounts from the 2000 election suggest that the song was at times performed in Spanish at Bush campaign events. Critics even turned up one reference to Bush himself singing the anthem in Spanish on the trail, but there was no confirmation.

The furor over a newly released Spanish version of the anthem has underscored once again the power of symbols in American politics. At a time when the immigration debate in Washington has divided Republicans on Capitol Hill, drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets and triggered a nationwide boycott, all sides are scrutinizing the words and records of the president and other politicians for signs of inconsistency.

Bush waded into the matter last week after British producer Adam Kidron issued " Nuestro Himno ." Responding to a reporter, Bush said: "I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English. And I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English, and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chose not to repeat his formulation Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I've heard the national anthem done in rap versions, country versions, classical versions," she said. "The individualization of the American national anthem is quite underway."

And there seems little evidence that the matter had concerned Bush before. The Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta, posted on its blog a reference to Bush singing the anthem in Spanish. In his book, "American Dynasty," Kevin Phillips wrote that Bush "would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner' in Spanish, sometimes partying with a 'Viva Bush' mariachi band flown in from Texas."

White House spokesmen and former campaign operatives said they could not recall whether that happened, though given the level of Bush's Spanish proficiency, they seemed dubious.

"Honestly, I don't remember him ever singing the national anthem in Spanish," said Leonard Rodriguez, who was national director of Hispanic Coalition for Bush/Cheney 2000. "I can't see any of his advisers recommending it." But he added: "They may have played it. That's certainly in the realm of possibility." And Rodriguez said he does not recall Bush ever objecting to it.

The Center for American Progress also cited a news report that the anthem was performed in Spanish by singer Jon Secada at a 2001 inauguration event, but Bush aides and most news accounts said he actually sang a Spanish version of "America the Beautiful."

Secada later performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the White House, in May 2001, but in English, according to the White House.

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