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UW Election Eye 2012

Campaign 2012 through the eyes of UW faculty and students

January 30, 2012 at 7:00 AM

Candidates' campaign song choices about more than the chorus

SEATTLE — Campaign music can often put candidates’ stump speeches to a melody anyone can follow.

Bill Clinton’s campaign song in 1992 was Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” Running as the challenger against an incumbent, the lyrics were completely on message:

Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone

In 2000, George W. Bush touted his “stick-to-your-guns” mentality with Tom Petty’s “I won’t back down.” The song’s lyrics played up Bush’s rough-and-tumble cowboy image against Al Gore’s more reserved persona:

No I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down
Gonna stand my ground
And I won’t back down

That was until, like many things in 2000, Bush’s use of the song was contested. Petty’s publishers issued a cease and desist letter to Bush. And to add insult to injury, Petty later went on to play the song at a private concert in Gore’s home.

Barack Obama is still revving up the campaign engines for 2012, but a little over a week ago he sang what at least could be the theme of his re-election campaign–Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”

He only sang the first line, but the chorus may have been a message to his supporters that despite the bumps along the way, there have been some good times:

Let’s, let’s stay together
Loving you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad

(Then again, perhaps it’s a shot at the thrice-married Newt Gingrich.)

And despite their battle to be a “sharp contrast” from one another, Mitt Romney and Gingrich have been using the same song at their rallies. Both campaigns have been rousing supporters with Brooks and Dunn’s “Only in America.” (George W. Bush used this song too.) The chorus is pure patriotism:

Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to

But another line is probably what caught the campaigns’ ears:

Looking at the promise of the Promised Land
One kid dreams of fame and fortune
One kid helps pay the rent
One could end up going to prison
One just might be president

Pretty sure both camps are banking on the last line.

Newt Gingrich and Martina McBride (Photo: Gage Skidmore/

However, Gingrich also plays another song at his rallies, Martina McBride’s “Independence Day.” The name and the chorus seem on message with their embrace of all things cherished in America–freedom and independence:

Let freedom ring, let the white dove sing
Let the whole world know that today
Is a day of reckoning.
Let the weak be strong, let the right be wrong
Roll the stone away, let the guilty pay
It’s Independence Day.

But I know this song, and I know the rest of the lyrics. For instance:

She tried to pretend he wasn’t drinkin’ again
But daddy left the proof on her cheek.


Well she lit up the sky that fourth of July
By the time that the firemen come
They just put out the flames and took down some names
And sent me to the county home.
Now I ain’t sayin’ it’s right or it’s wrong
But maybe it’s the only way.
Talk about your revolution
It’s Independence Day.

The song is about domestic violence. And these lyrics, not just the chorus, were played at Gingrich’s rallies.

It doesn’t take Gingrich’s Ph.D. from Tulane to know that even if you like the hook, certain songs just don’t work.

Comments | Topics: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Campaign music


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