THE FALLOUT from the great Bob Dole confrontation with Hollywood has been fascinating. One might have thought that raising moral objections to music that celebrates the disgusting, the unspeakably vulgar and the violent would be a no-brainer for all men of goodwill.
But apparently it isn't. The smart set has rushed to the defense of 2 Live Crew, Nine Inch Nails and the rest, and has been particularly solicitous about those poor, defenseless executives of multibillion-dollar Time Warner.
In the wake of Mr. Dole's speech (a beautifully crafted, subtle speech, incidentally), most of the criticism was not about the corporate purveyors of cultural pollution but rather about Mr. Dole himself.
President Clinton was first out of the blocks, condemning Mr. Dole for hypocrisy because he doesn't support gun control. The president's role in this is interesting because, let us recall, he himself used the issue of rap lyrics just three years ago to magnificent political effect.
Down in the polls and unable to get traction in his run for the Democratic nomination in 1992, Mr. Clinton addressed a meeting of the Rainbow Coalition and publicly condemned Jesse Jackson for inviting the rap singer Sister Souljah to the gathering. Sister Souljah had made headlines during the Los Angeles riots when she urged young black men to consider killing white folks instead of one another.
Mr. Clinton's gambit worked brilliantly. Mr. Jackson fumed, while Bill Clinton became the talk of the political circuit and was praised for his courage and moral vision.
The president's idea about guns and hypocrisy was quickly echoed elsewhere by liberals frantic to find a way to discredit Mr. Dole. On talk shows and in newspaper columns, we were repeatedly instructed that "music never killed anyone," whereas guns do.
That's strange. Who has heard of a gun that picked itself up, pointed itself and pulled its own trigger? Corrupting ideas, however, do have the capacity to warp a human being's capacity to make the right decisions. And propaganda (for that is what some of this music amounts to) that dehumanizes people, particularly women, can certainly contribute to rape and murder.
Well, they argued, Mr. Dole took $21,000 in campaign contributions from Time Warner over the past eight years, so he's a hypocrite. How so?
If Mr. Dole had criticized other entertainment giants but spared Time Warner, perhaps the hypocrisy argument would have some heft. But Mr. Dole ran the risk that his criticism would permanently alienate a donor.
He should give the money back, they say. Well, perhaps Mr. Dole can work out some kind of deal with his liberal brethren in the Senate. He will return the $21,000 from Time Warner if they return all of the money they've received from business political action committees with which they differ.
Bob Dole is violating the First Amendment by speaking his mind, they cried. This hardly requires a response.
They also ask: what about Arnold Schwarzenneger and Bruce Willis? Why don't Republicans like Mr. Dole condemn their movies? Well, here the liberals have a minor point. Perhaps Mr. Dole could have mentioned some of the conservative sinners. But other Republicans have. Bill Bennett has taken Rupert Murdoch to task personally for some of his less savory entertainment products.
Frank Rich, the reliable left-wing hit man of the New York Times op-ed page, was the most poisonous, arguing that Mr. Dole's remarks betrayed latent anti-Semitism -- a totally unfounded and offensive suggestion, which only serves to prove that a leftist, when cornered, often resorts to name calling.
What most of the baby boomers who defend gangsta rap and other garbage produced by Hollywood cannot grasp is that the world has moved on since their parents objected to Elvis in 1957. "Love Me Tender" is a sonnet compared with "Bad A-- B----."
Bob Dole has tapped a deep vein of anxiety in the American electorate. Fifty-six percent of voters in 1994 said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who addresses the nation's moral decline than for any other.
Moral leader is not a role Sen. Dole has sought before -- but it becomes him.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.