Do country singers watch C-Span? If superstar Toby Keith caught any while cruising in his tour bus this weekend, he was probably steamed. During the broadcast of a rally for Sen. John Kerry in Oklahoma City on Saturday, Keith's mega-hit, "How Do You Like Me Now" could be heard blaring out of the speakers during Kerry's exit from the stage. Yep, the liberal senator from Massachusetts, the home of folkies like James Taylor, was pumping up the crowd with a redneck anthem from a proud, pro-war Republican.
Keith made headlines in 2002 with the 9/11-inspired, "Courtesy Of The Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)," and its now famous lyrics: "You'll be sorry that you messed with the U. S. of A. 'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way." President Bush loved the song when Keith performed it for him and military families during a special concert at the MacDill Airforce base in Tampa, Florida on the eve of the Iraq war. Earlier this year when a Fox News Channel camera panned outside what had been the Baath party headquarters, it found graffiti sprayed on the wall by a U.S. soldier: "Our foot is in your ass!"
But when Dixie Chick lead singer Natalie Maines labeled the song "ignorant" and Keith lashed back, Nashville's very own red state/blue state war of words was on. (A couple months later, Maines wore a "F.U.T.K." T-shirt while performing on a primetime country awards show.) Keith followed "Courtesy" up late last year with the CD, "Shock'nY'all" (get it?), which includes the G.I. salute "American Solider."
So what gives with Kerry's musical choice? The simple answer is that Keith's swaggering, "How Do You Like Me Now" is about a guy who's written off as a loser but ends up on top. Suddenly it sounds custom-made made for Kerry's resurgent campaign, which just two months ago was pronounced dead by the pundits. So expect the Kerry campaign to continue co-opting the Keith song. Unless of course, the singer threatens to put his boot in somebody's ass.