Maybe we really are stuck in the ’90s. Gingrich is running for president; Republicans have pushed for a government shutdown; a Democratic president saw his party get slammed in the midterms; the right wants a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution; and conservatives are falsely labeling a sensible, mainstream health care reform plan “socialized medicine.”

And Republicans are back to talking about rap lyrics, too.

Tonight, the president and first lady will host an evening of American poetry at the White House to celebrate the art form’s influence in American culture and, apparently, to provide the right-wing an opportunity to manufacture another controversy. This time, it’s over the guest list. After learning that Grammy-winning hip-hop artist and long-time Obama supporter Common will attend, conservative news outlets and pundits seized on the artist’s mention of controversial topics in his lyrics to lambast President Obama for hosting a “vile rapper.”

Particularly aghast over the “Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button” line in Common’s anti-Iraq war song “A Letter to the Law,” Fox News host Sean Hannity invited Bush’s former White House adviser Karl Rove on to berate the president and first lady for “inviting a thug to the White House.”

It wasn’t just last night — the Republican cable news network has been quite worked up about this.

Eric Boehlert argues persuasively today that this manufactured outrage is a cheap “programming maneuver.”

You can almost pinpoint the moment yesterday when Fox News swung into action and threw its collective weight behind the right-wing freakout over the fact that the Chicago rapper known as Common has been invited to a White House poetry event. And once Fox News decided to hype the story, its anchors and programs were instantly onboard. (That’s what talking points are for, right?)

That’s how it works at Fox News. Once the decision has been made a fight a certain political battle (notice that journalism does not enter the equation), the whole team is expected to take up arms. So today, Fox News has decided that one of the most pressing issues facing America is that a rapper is scheduled to visit the White House.

Why bother? Because as a former Fox News insider told Boehlert earlier this year, network officials are “in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack.”

As for Rove, his White House invited oil industry lobbyists over for secret meetings to shape federal energy policy. Obama’s White House invited an award-winning hip hop star over for a poetry night.

If Karl Rove wants to talk about appropriate White House guests, we can have that conversation.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.