It was on April 13, 1996 that Saturday Night Live gave us one of its strangest host/musical guest combinations of all-time. Your host? Billionaire Steve Forbes, who had just dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination for President. Your musical guest? Rage Against the Machine. Yeah, a pretty awkward choice when a man who more or less embodies “the machine” is hosting. It went about as well as one might expect; the band only played one song, in which they hung an upside down American flag over one of their amplifiers to protest Forbes’ hosting. An angry Lorne Michaels chased them out of the studio, and they were subsequently banned from the show. Really, it was a quintessential Rage moment.
Throughout their original run in the ’90s, Rage were the voice of left-wing politics. They fought class warfare on “Down Rodeo,” combated racism on “Killing in the Name,” protested the imprisonment of Mumia Abu-Jamal on “Voice of the Voiceless,” and in general, gave voice to one political cause or another on just about every song. The band found a huge fan base, becoming one of the most decidedly non-mainstream bands to get regular airplay on rock radio. When considering the band’s fiery political rhetoric, along with the current political climate, one can’t help but wonder how people would react to the band if they were to come along now.
While the band’s pissed-off lefty politics certainly found a lot of fans, they came along at a time when the average liberal was far more comfortable than usual. It was the Clinton administration, and the country was in the midst of a budget surplus. Admittedly, several parts of Bill Clinton’s presidency are frowned upon by liberals now, like the Defense of Marriage Act, which effectively banned same-sex marriage at the federal level, and the 1994 crime bill against gangs and teenagers who were labeled “super-predators,” which Hillary Clinton is currently facing scrutiny for. At the time, however, Clinton was quite popular among liberals, and only the more hardened leftists were complaining about his policies. With that in mind, Rage’s righteous anger might have seemed a tad anachronistic. But right now? It would have fit right in with much of the national mood.