In presidential races, song remains the same


Having squandered my adult life in the communication business, I'm always fascinated by the myriad ways of communicating information and attempting to persuade.

There are more methods between the sublime and the ridiculous than stump speeches, white papers, editorials, columns and commercials.

Of late, everyone is agog over the viral video "Yes We Can" that has been viewed nearly 4 million times on YouTube. It is an unabashed paean to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama put together by some guy who calls himself will.i.am who is described as the frontman for the Black Eyed Peas. Sounds like a bunch of guys in bib overalls sitting in folding chairs in the corner playing banjos and accordions, but somehow I doubt it.

The video is a mish-mash of Obama's platitudinous speeches and various certifiable celebrities singing, saying and whispering "yes, we can" over and over.

One writer for a British newspaper gushed over the video thusly: "The video achieves things politicians can usually only dream about, but which pop takes for granted: it puts emotion at the centre of the message, it never bores, and it is effortlessly cool. It is a party political broadcast for a generation who would never watch a party political broadcast."

What genius! What innovation! What originality!

Unless, of course, you count this little ditty, "He will lead the way, my lads, it's he that leads the way. Where he commands we shall obey, through rain and snow by night and day determined to be free, my lads, determined to be free. Till freedom reigns, our happy bands will fight like true Americans."

Those are a few of the lyrics to "Follow Washington," the campaign theme song of our first president.

And who can forget, "To tyrants never bend the knee, but join with heart, and soul and voice, for Jefferson and Liberty."

Though perhaps a bit derivative, we should also recall, "Hurrah for the choice of the nation, our chieftain so brave and so true. We'll go for the great reformation, for Lincoln and Liberty, too!"

Practically every successful presidential campaign has been set to music, right up through Bill Clinton's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" by Fleetwood Mac.

Since fife and drum days we seem to want to accompany our issues with a catchy tune -- from the revolution's "Yankee Doodle" to the Mexican-American War's "Green Grow the Lilacs" to the Civil War's "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Dixie" to World War I's "Over There."

Vietnam made protest songs a whole separate genre, from "Where Have All the Flowers Gone" to "Eve of Destruction." Not to be outdone by the countervailing "Ballad of the Green Berets."

Then there are the Irish, who have a song to commemorate every famine and every martyr and failed rising since Theobald Wolfe Tone was sentenced to be hanged.

If you can't tell by now, I'm a bit of a student of music to argue by. So I could not pass up the opportunity to go to UNLV two days before the Nevada presidential caucuses to hear the Capitol Steps perform a program of blistering political parodies. The title of their latest album is "Springtime for Liberals."

Though the vast majority of their potshots are aimed at the right side of the political spectrum, they do occasionally ride the recoil and pick off a target or two on the left.

Take the title song, performed to the music of "Springtime for Hitler" from the musical "The Producers," which goes, "And now it's springtime for liberals and Hillary, go hug a redwood today, death row must go away, it's cruel, unless he tried to pray in school ... Don't be scared to tell your mommy, come on be a pinko commie."

Considering how Hillary Clinton is faring in the delegate count as spring approaches, they might have to send that song to rewrite.

So much for the playful diversions. I can't help but end on a slightly more serious note about this means of argumentation. Can will.i.am put Obama's so-called economic plan -- which calls for spending nearly $200 billion a year, taxing the wealthy, bugging out of Iraq, a 10-year National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank, a 10-year energy research fund, universal health care, middle-class tax cuts, mortgage fraud relief, and child-care and college tax credits -- to music?

Perhaps to a Russian dirge, because it sure sounds like the Central Committee's latest 10-year plan.

But can we dance to it?

 

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of free speech and free press. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.

 

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