THE BACK PAGES

You and I: Clinton, Dion in 2008!

If a theme song is tricky for a politician, it can be downright hazardous for the artist

JAIME J. WEINMAN July 23 2007
THE BACK PAGES

You and I: Clinton, Dion in 2008!

If a theme song is tricky for a politician, it can be downright hazardous for the artist

JAIME J. WEINMAN July 23 2007

You and I: Clinton, Dion in 2008!

If a theme song is tricky for a politician, it can be downright hazardous for the artist

music

JAIME J. WEINMAN

Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president of the United States has already proved one thing about democracy: write-in candidates are dangerous. Senator Clinton sponsored an online contest to let the people pick her campaign theme song, and they chose Celine Dion’s 2004 hit You and I (“You will feel that you’re soaring”). A song written as an Air Canada advertising jingle is now a political theme song: music to rally supporters, raise money, and annoy anyone who doesn’t support the candidate.

Politicians once commissioned original songs (Grover Cleveland and his running mate Adlai Stevenson had Hurrah, Hurrah for Cleve and Steve), but today, no one is willing to pay a songwriter to find a rhyme for “Clinton” or “Giuliani” when they can just pick a catchy, familiar tune. President Bill Clinton understood that in 1992 when he famously picked Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop: people who liked the song would associate it in their minds with the Democratic candidate. And those who didn’t like Fleetwood Mac were probably Republicans.

Do campaign theme songs really help a political candidate? Jefferson Flanders, a political blogger, argues that they are outweighed by seemingly less important things like the issues. “George H.W. Bush’s choice of Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy in 1988 was loopy,” Flanders wrote in an essay at jef fersonflanders.wordpress.com, but it didn’t hurt him at all: “His Democratic opponent, Mike Dukakis, picked Neil Diamond’s America, a more fitting song for a presidential run, and lost badly nonetheless.”

It’s true, as Flanders says, that a theme song doesn’t affect how people vote; someone who likes Clinton but dislikes Celine

Dion will still vote for Clinton. But a theme song can attract publicity. Clinton’s contest, and the Sopranos-style ad in which she and Bill Clinton announced the victory of You And I, became a media event, knocking her rival Barack Obama out of the headlines.

And while theme songs don’t lose elections, a wrong choice can expose the candidate to the wrong kind of publicity. In 1992, independent candidate Ross Perot provided a tempting punchline for comedians everywhere when he walked onstage to the Patsy Cline song Crazy. The choice was a deliberate parody of Perot’s image. But it just proved that no candidate should pick a song that reinforces his negative image, even in fun.

If a theme song is tricky for a politician, it can be hazardous for the artist: if a tune becomes associated with a candidate, it might lose its appeal with the candidate’s opponents. That’s why a representative for Celine Dion told Maclean’s that the singer is “not involved politically” with the campaign, adding that “her son always wanted to hear her music on an official occasion, like a wedding, and she is flattered that the fans voted for You and I for this occasion.” Dion wants us to know that she is happy, but in a non-partisan way.

But at least Dion doesn’t actually object to hearing her song at Clinton rallies; others have waged counter-campaigns to stop their

work from being used by politicians they don’t like. Bruce Springsteen pushed back against Ronald Reagan’s transformation of Born in the U.S.A., an angry song about the plight of America, into a rousing Republican anthem. When George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign tried to use Still the One by the group Orleans, one of the group’s founders didn’t like it: John Hall is not only a Democrat, he was elected to Congress last year. “As a promoter of an ‘ownership society,’ ” Hall thundered, “the issue of intellectual property rights is something the President should respect.”

Other musicians get into the spirit of the campaign theme song. Frank Sinatra was so supportive of John F. Kennedy that he had High Hopes turned into a tribute to JFK, while Irving Berlin rewrote They Like Ike, a 1950 song about the Republicans’ attempt to recruit Dwight Eisenhower, into I Like Ike, for Eisenhower’s presidential run.

Some insiders are unenthusiastic about mixing music and party politics. A writer at Down With Tyranny, a blog run by musicindustry executive Howie Klein, lamented that “corporate types take something hip and cool and pollute it.” But the writer acknowledged that Clinton’s choice of song was logical: Dion, like Clinton, has been accused of being “mechanical and bereft of true feeling.” If they do nothing else, campaign theme songs can demonstrate that politicians and entertainers aren’t that different after all. M