Land of the free, home of the tone deaf


Hillary Rodham Clinton may deserve criticism for a lot of failings, but the junior senator from New York deserves a pass for her earnest and off-key rendition of the national anthem as she launched her presidential campaign in Iowa.

At a rally in the gym of Des Moines’ East Side High School, the band struck up “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Clinton sang along. She could have mouthed the words and no one would have been the wiser, but she bravely elected to sing and an open lapel mike recorded the fact that although the former first lady may have many virtues, carrying a tune is not among them. And, of course, it was soon on YouTube and everywhere else on the Internet.

Our national anthem is — let’s face it — unsingable for most people. Even trained singers have been thrown by its octave-and-a-half range. It is perhaps no accident that the music comes from an 18th-century English drinking song, that the words and music together debuted in a Baltimore tavern and that as an American group endeavor we perform it best at events where beer is served, which was clearly not the case at East Side High School.

There are periodic attempts to substitute the more melodic and easier “America the Beautiful” as the national anthem. And as an article of our national pageantry, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is relatively recent. This March 3 will mark the 75th anniversary of its formal adoption as the national anthem.

Clinton also lightly mangled the words, singing, “O say, does our star-spangled banner yet wave” when the lyrics read “that star-spangled banner.” Here, too, the candidate is not alone. A 2005 Harris poll found that two-thirds of adults could not successfully recite the first verse of our national anthem.

Anyone who mocks Clinton — make that “mocks to excess” — should be required to stand up in public and sing the remaining three verses of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” You know: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/ From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave …”

Come on, everybody, sing. Everybody? Anybody?