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Published: Sunday, 5/14/2006

El himno nacional?

WHEN the conservative media talk heatedly about an issue, Republicans in Congress listen. And when most of Main Street America resents a manufactured controversy over how the national anthem should be sung, Washington pays attention.

The much ado about nothing was sparked by the musical release of "Nuestro Himno," or "Our Anthem," a new Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," featuring some altered lyrics and sung by a group of well-known Hispanic artists.

The predictable result: an angry public and Congress.

"English is part of who we are as Americans," declared Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander. "It's part of what unites us," the senator said. "That's why we should always sing [the anthem] in our common language, English."

He's right, but we have to wonder if this dustup over how the national anthem is performed isn't akin to the furor over flag-burning.

Both are time-killers that keep politicians from addressing serious issues that affect everyday Americans like financial security, health-care costs, and failing public schools.

It is no coincidence that the anthem controversy - if you can call it that - over a foreign language version of the song comes at a time of national upheaval over immigration laws. In the middle of protests, demonstrations, and boycotts, a song written and sung by immigrants is sure to further upset those convinced illegal immigrants have become far too bold in America.

This is hardly the first time immigrants have translated our national anthem for their political purposes. Besides Spanish-language versions of the anthem, there have been German, Yiddish, and apparently even Samoan renditions found.

Interestingly, there are currently four Spanish versions of "The Star Spangled Banner" on the U.S. State Department's Web site.

"Nuestro Himno," which mixes Francis Scott Key's lyrics with political messages about the plight of immigrants, became controversial almost immediately.

Some scholars detect a more vehement backlash when Hispanics are involved. One blogger dubbed "Nuestro Himno" the "Illegal Alien Anthem."

Even President Bush opined that the anthem "ought to be sung in English."

This is one we agree with the President on, but we also wonder if the whole thing isn't a little contrived.

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