Editor's Note: This is one of three stories covering current presidential candidates' positions on music-related issues. One examines Democrats; another, third-party candidates; this story looks at Republican presidential hopefuls. An accompanying sidebar presents the front-running candidates' positions in graphic form.
In June, Arizona Sen. John McCain demanded that Congress require record companies to put warnings on music that "delivers messages of hate and violence." Two years earlier, Texas Gov. George W. Bush signed a law banning state investments in record companies producing "offensive" work.
"Generally, on the spectrum of free-speech rights, these guys are not so great," said Laura Murphy, Director of the Washington National Office of the American Civil Liberties Union, about the two Republican front-runners in the current presidential campaign.
(Click here to read about Democratic candidates.
Click here to read about third-party candidates.
Click here to view chart of candidates' stands on select issues.)
When it comes to music and the arts, Republicans typically have been more conservative than their Democratic rivals. But some distinctions have emerged among the positions of rising insurgent McCain, the more centrist Bush, once considered a sure bid, and their more right-leaning competitor, Alan Keyes.
Last summer, when he spoke at a fund-raising dinner with Hollywood executives, Bush danced around the issue of media violence rather than attack the campaign contributors in front of him.
"My job is not to hold anybody up for scorn," the son of former President George Bush told a group that included Maverick Records (Madonna, Prodigy) co-owner Guy Oseary and producer Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson), according to the Hollywood Reporter.
"I think there is a correlation between violence in movies and youth violence, but I also think there is a correlation between violence and drug use and alcohol abuse and lack of parental love," he was quoted as saying by the World Entertainment News.
In 1997, Bush signed his name to a funding bill that prohibited state money from being invested in record companies that produced work that described or advocated criminal violence, certain sexual acts and anti-ethnic attacks, among other things.
The measure, which eventually was struck down on procedural grounds, was broad enough to cover such mainstream artists as "Me and a Gun" singer Tori Amos, Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash and Bob Marley.
Still, the ACLU's Murphy called Bush the most progressive candidate on the Republican slate, primarily for his support of the National Endowment for the Arts. He was quoted by civil-liberties watchdog group People for the American Way as saying he believed states should have a bigger role in spending national arts money, adding that "obscene" material should not be supported.
In addition, the Texas governorship includes a staff for promoting Texas music, although that organization was started before Bush took office.
Bush also has said he supports the V-chip, although he would prefer that a shift in cultural values, rather than technological advances, would preclude violence in entertainment media, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Neither Bush's nor McCain's campaign offices returned calls for this story.
Eminem Would Be Stickered
McCain took his strongest stance in the music arena less than a year ago, when he co-sponsored "The 21st Century Media Responsibility Act." The measure, which has not been voted on, would require uniform warning labels, similar to those used on cigarette packages, for albums, movies and video games. The labels would note the "nature, context and intensity of the violent content" in the products. Albums such as Eminem's The Slim Shady LP, which includes the graphic " '97 Bonnie & Clyde," undoubtedly would be stickered.
"We are not talking about limiting free speech," McCain told Congress. "Rather, we are talking about providing content labels on highly sophisticated, highly targeted and highly promoted consumer products. This is common sense."
A supporter of the V-chip, McCain also voted for the Senate's Communications Decency Act in 1995. That bill attempted to protect minors by criminalizing a broad range of "indecent material" on the Internet. The Supreme Court later struck down the law, claiming it placed an "unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech."
McCain has opposed funding for the NEA, according to People for the American Way, saying tax dollars should not underwrite art that many Americans consider offensive.
Keyes Jumped Into Mosh Pit
Although United Nations Ambassador and talk-show host Keyes is given practically no chance of winning the Republican nomination, he has not dropped out of the race, and he has spoken out on music issues.
Earlier this year, he attracted attention by jumping from a stage into a mosh pit while the music of Rage Against the Machine played at a campaign event.
But the conservative Keyes, who does not support the NEA, is almost surely not a fan of the leftist Rage.
On Thursday, he was asked during a televised debate in Los Angeles whether he would revoke broadcast licenses for networks that did not impose entertainment ratings.
"I would be willing to look at approaches that are going to hold people accountable for their respect for public decency," Keyes said.
"In the end, though," he added later, "I think moves in the direction of government censorship are no substitute for the willingness of our citizens to do what they ought to do, which is police the use of their money and their time to withdraw support from those who are destroying our moral fabric."
Attracting Entertainment-Industry Dollars
While Hollywood has for most part enjoyed a close relationship with the Democratic Clinton administration, Republican candidates are attracting entertainment industry dollars.
David Geffen, founder of Geffen Records and co-founder of DreamWorks Records (Powerman 5000, Buckcherry), has given $1,000 each to McCain and Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
Meanwhile, Edgar Bronfman Jr., president of Seagram, which owns Universal Music (Beck, DMX), has sent $1,000 each to Bush, Gore and Democratic contender Bill Bradley.