It has come to the attention of our editorial board—a group of august, Harvard-educated, middle-aged Boston Brahmins in tweedy suits sitting at heavy wooden desks and smoking fine pipe tobacco * —that there’s a controversy afoot involving “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” To wit, former President George W. Bush is being criticized for swaying just a little too zestily during a rendition at Tuesday’s memorial service in Dallas for five police officers killed by a gunman:
Even the Associated Press has weighed in, reporting with studious vagueness that “Some criticize Bush’s behavior as inappropriate given the solemn occasion. Others are using the moment to post videos of Bush dancing awkwardly in the past.”
Let us (we tweedy band of editors) stipulate that this is hardly the most important or momentous news of the day. Let us stipulate further, however, that as the periodical that first published Julia Ward Howe’s abolitionist poem, The Atlantic feels a special obligation to weigh in on the matter.
So here it is: Eh, let the guy be.
Look, any criticism delivered can only pale in comparison to the greater penalty Bush faces in this case, which is for anyone to watch this video, in which he looks like—to use the scientific term—a doofus. The true star of this clip is First Lady Michelle Obama, who looks at Bush with what looks like affectionate shade and helpless embarrassment as he rocks out, even as the rest of the dais stands somberly. But when the choir hits the chorus (“Glory, glory hallelujah!”) both Obamas seem to get into the act, swaying along with Bush.
Two points here: First, it’s not the case that getting in the spirit and even laughing are incompatible with memorializing the dead, a point made eloquently by Obama’s own rendition of “Amazing Grace” at a memorial in Charleston for those slain at Emanuel AME Church. Second, it’s the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” not the “Battle Dirge of the Republic.” The tune was borrowed from a religious camp meeting song, and even before Howe wrote her lyrics, Union soldiers had adopted it as a marching song, under the name “John Brown’s Body.” These days the song is often employed at sporting events, such as this lively performance of Florida State University’s marching band, complete with a flag-waving color guard and dancing cheerleaders—for a September 11 commemoration, no less:
In short, it’s a song made for movement, not stiffness.
In conclusion, leave Dubya alone.
* Not really.