On Friday, a helpful reader sent in the following, regarding the gestures Obama made while discussing Hillary and the last debate:
The racial and cultural gulf in this election is not only being exposed, but also is the generational gap and the level of corniness in the media. Idiot, the crowd was responding because he did a move popularized by Jay-Z ‘dirt of your shoulders’ brush, not a middle finger. Could you be more corny?
The gesture can be found here, along with the chorus of the song, which (warning) uses the n-word.
(By the way, presumably if you didn’t pick up on the Jay-Z reference, you’re “corny”, too.)
Maureen Dowd is down with the hip-hop scene enough to recognize it:
Barack Obama, who says he listens to Jay-Z along with his “old school guy” favorites like Earth, Wind & Fire and the Temptations, alluded to the rapper’s 2003 hit “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” on Thursday to sweep away concerns about his pugnacity.
After conceding that the Philly debate was tough, he brushed the imaginary lint of Hillary, George and Charlie from his shoulders, in a wordless reference to Jay-Z’s lyrics in his anthem about not letting anyone crimp your ride as you cruise from the bottom to the top: “Got some, dirt on my shoulder, could you brush it off for me.”
Look, I’m sure there are millions of Americans whose hearts will beat faster and whose blood will rush upon seeing a presidential candidate mimic a gesture that was the centerpiece of a Jay-Z song.
There are also millions of Americans who won’t be so impressed.
And I would note that when candidates in the past have latched onto pop culture slogans and fads — Mondale asking Hart, “where’s the beef?” — it was commonly known well enough to generate laughter in almost everyone within earshot.
By the way, some have asked whether this is “dog whistle” politics, a subtle message that one demographic hears and understands, but isn’t heard by everyone else. I’m not sure you can do that in today’s political environment; once Dowd writes about it, everybody knows Obama used that gesture and where it came from. I’m sure opposition researchers are now going through Jay-Z’s lyrics and preparing to target those who don’t like rap music, and asking “why is Barack Obama imitating this man?”