New York -- SOME SKEPTICS have speculated that Bob Dole, savior of America's children, had never heard of gangsta rap until someone told him it might come in handy in his presidential campaign. But they would be wrong.
Senator Dole's involvement with this music actually dates back four years. In 1991, both he and his current rival for the hearts of Christian Coalition voters, Sen. Phil Gramm, rolled out the Washington welcome mat for Eazy-E, of the then-pre-eminent gangsta rap group NWA (Niggaz Wit' Attitude), already notorious for lyrics preaching violence.
A 1988 hit song targeting cops, whose title cannot be printed here, had led to their eviction from the Joe Louis Arena by Detroit police and prompted MTV, in a display of corporate conscience that Mr. Dole would now applaud, to ban NWA outright.
But there was no ban on Eazy-E within the GOP scouting potential fat-cat contributors. Senators Gramm and Dole sent him letters in his offstage name of Eric Wright informing him of his nomination to the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle.
"Elizabeth and I are especially excited about the news of your nomination," Mr. Dole wrote to the self-confessed "woman beater" and former drug dealer, "because we will have the chance to be with you."
And Eazy-E happily accepted, ponying up $1,000 in annual dues and $230 more to attend a "salute to the commander in chief."
Did Mr. Gramm and the Doles know they were writing to the man who sang that a policeman is "a sucker in a uniform waitin' to get shot, by me or another nigger"?
Presumably not at first. But after Eazy-E, having passed his Secret Service clearance, showed up in Washington to rub shoulders with them and George Bush, the details I cite here of his unlikely induction into the GOP inner circle were reported by the Washington Post, song lyrics included.
Far from being embarrassed, however, the Republicans took Eazy-E's money and ran. Asked at the time to comment by the Post, the Republican Senatorial Committee released only a tongue-in-cheek statement: "This is clear and convincing evidence of the success of our new Rap-Outreach program. Democrats, eat your heart out."
Perhaps now that Elizabeth Dole has sold her stock in Disney, which she faults for releasing the movie "Priest," she will also prevail upon her husband to return $1,230 to the estate of Eazy-E, who died of AIDS in March.
In fairness to Mr. Dole, however, he is not the only Republican cultural watchdog to be caught in bed with the very industry whose nightmares of depravity he purports to deplore.
Mr. Gramm, in addition to his own involvement with Eazy-E, invested $7,500 in a 1974 movie in which actors playing Billy Graham and a disrobed Richard Nixon treat a Bible at least as sacrilegiously as did any 1980s grantee of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Meanwhile, the screenwriter Joe Eszterhas reported in Variety last week that Newt Gingrich's new novel, "1945," was submitted by his publisher months ago to a Hollywood producer whose next film, "Showgirls," is the graphic tale of a Vegas "lap dancer," expected to be rated NC-17.
What moral is to be drawn from all these moralizers with no clothes? A simple one: If American pop culture is overdosing on sex and violence -- a matter few dispute -- candidates of any party who trivialize the issue for purely partisan ends are part of the problem, not the solution.
As anyone like me who has a teen-age son knows, Mr. Dole lost all credibility with children when he admitted that he hadn't seen or heard the movies or songs he condemns.
Since he is also helping to obliterate public television, the sole free TV network that refuses to feed children sex and violence, he has no credibility with the many citizens who want to reform the most accessible of all entertainment media.
Worse, by championing repeal of the assault-weapon ban, Mr. Dole sends kids the disingenuous, if not dangerous, message that only gunmen on screen, not on the street, should be disarmed.
Is the coarseness of pop culture a serious issue for American parents? Of course it is -- far too serious to be entrusted to politicians whose farcical hypocrisy is rapidly turning a national concern into a national joke.
Frank Rich is a New York Times columnist.