Can Clinton Count on Rockers in '96?

The Rock 'n' Roll President.

That's how Bill Clinton was touted when he swept into the White House in 1992. He won young voters with MTV appearances. His theme song was "Don't Stop" by Fleetwood Mac--which he joined in singing at his pre-inaugural gala along with the band and Michael Jackson. And MTV hosted an inaugural concert with performers including members of R.E.M. and U2 together, 10,000 Maniacs, Soul Asylum and En Vogue.

He was even forgiven for liking Kenny G.

But will the rock constituency stand by its man in the upcoming presidential campaign?

"We still support him," says R.E.M.'s Mike Mills. "That hasn't diminished."

But Mills stopped short of pledging to actively campaign for his reelection effort.

"We'll wait and see if he needs us," Mills says. "Right now he's doing OK, and his campaign isn't really going yet. We don't want to spend our political energy too early."

In fact, the only sure thing for campaign support from the pop music world isn't a rocker at all, but Barbra Streisand. The president's most loyal star, she did three private fund-raising concerts for Clinton's '92 drive.

"I can assure you she will support him," says Streisand spokesman Dick Guttman. "Barbra has probably been his most unwavering public supporter."

On the whole, though, the mood is rather tepid.

"Clinton isn't the poster boy for all we want in the world," says Howie Klein, president of Reprise Records and one of the most politically outspoken of record executives. "I'll vote for him, and he's been a good president. But I can't get enthusiastic about him, except relatively as compared to other choices."

Klein is particularly concerned about recent legislation signed by Clinton allowing content restrictions on the Internet. That's an issue that has attracted others in the rock world, and is in part behind voter-registration drive participation by artists such as Hootie & the Blowfish and rapper Chuck D., both of whom were recently honored by the Rock the Vote organization. But neither hints of endorsing Clinton--or any other candidate.

"A lot of musicians get involved with Rock the Vote because they have issues they feel strongly about, especially the 1st Amendment," says Ricki Seidman, the organization's executive director. "What we provide is a nonpartisan platform."

Not even Republican front-runner Bob Dole's pronouncements last year against rap and rock seem enough to get rockers to rally wholeheartedly around Clinton. Only one turn of events would appear capable of doing that: the nomination of conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan.

Mills chuckles at that suggestion.

"Yeah," he says. "That would probably do it."

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