The Election 2012 Soundtrack

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Suggested campaign songs for several of the likely contenders

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Unofficial campaign songs are used by presidential candidates to fire up crowds, evoke positive emotions from voters, and attract cease-and-desist letters from aging rock 'n roll acts. What should this year's contenders buy on iTunes and blast through sound systems of questionable quality?

Mitt Romney - "Taking Care of Business," Bachmann-Turner Overdrive



It's an upbeat song, most people like it, and the only lyrics the average voter is likely to remember conveys the precise message that the former Massachusetts governor wants delivered:

And I'll be

Taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)
I've been taking care of business (it's all mine)
Taking care of business and working overtime

Is there any better double-entendre for a business friendly Republican who wants to be seen by independents as a can-do manager?

Take that, Donald Trump!

The Debate Zing: Says Donald Trump, "When an employee tells me 'I love to work at nothing all day,' there's a line that I say back. You know what it is, don't you?" 

The Retort: "I actually do watch your show, Donald. It's very entertaining, and if the American people want a president who would keep Garey Busey around week after week on his staff, they know where to look."

Sarah Palin - "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," Pat Benatar



Her whole ethos echoes through this song. "Why don't you hit me with your best shot? ...You don't fight fair. But that's okay, see if I care. Knock me down. It's all in vain. I'll get right back on my feet again."

The Debate Zing: Says Mitt Romney, "Sarah, I've listened to your campaign song, and it almost seems like you want to be attacked."

The Retort: "I think that zing is, I've heard it before, and especially here at the Reagan library, to hear a lame-stream media talking point, that's not especially when we've got Obama to beat what the American people want to hear. So if that's your best shot, I hate to say that I've got my lipstick case right here, Mitt."

(This may be too savvy a pick for Palin. It's very possible that she'll instead choose "Into The Great Wide Open" by Tom Petty in an attempt to evoke Alaska's splendor, ignoring the advisers who try to point out that there is no recovering from the zing that she's "a rebel without a clue."

Newt Gingrich - "Political Science" by Randy Newman



Ever since Ronald Reagan tried to appropriate "Born in the USA" without quite realizing its actual message, politicians have been using songs in ways that rile up the artists who wrote them. Who better to take this to the next level than the former Speaker of the House? He's a master at earnestly asserting what is self-evidently absurd if it gets him attention or wins points with the right subset of the base. Should he fashion himself the bellicose hawk in this race, what better soundtrack than this?

We give them money-but are they grateful?
No, they're spiteful and they're hateful
They don't respect us-so let's surprise them
We'll drop the big one and pulverize them

Asia's crowded and Europe's too old
Africa is far too hot
And Canada's too cold
And South America stole our name
Let's drop the big one
There'll be no one left to blame us

The Debate Zing: It'll probably only happen if Ron Paul is still in the race, and he'll deliver that diatribe regardless.

The Retort: "I'm short on time, so I'll refer critics of my campaign song to The Weekly Standard, where Bill Kristol has written a wonderful post pointing out exactly the context in which I used this song, and I'll move on to..."

Barack Obama - "Run This Town" by Jay-Z



A hip hop song is perfect for firing up young voters likely to be less excited than they were four years ago. This particular single has other benefits too: a "clean" radio version, a chorus that is familiar and perfectly defensible, and lyrics in the verses that are sure to make the heads of some conservatives explode: "Get y'all fatigues on / All black everything / Black cards, black cars / All black everything / And our girls are blackbirds / Ridin' with they dillingers / I'd get more in Depth / If you boys really real enough / This is la familia / I'll explain later." Don't get me wrong. John McWhorter could take that apart in a way that might damage Obama, but instead it'll be Victor Davis Hanson and Kathryn Jean Lopez deconstructing it on The Corner, where they'll seem comically out of touch at best.  

Risky strategy?

Sure, but if Obama could get away with going to Jeremiah Wright's church he can definitely swing playing a snippet of a Jay Z chorus at a campaign rally. He's so betrayed every idealistic voter who cast a ballot for him in 2008 that baiting his opponent into seeming unenlightened on race and culture is his surest path to rallying the troops. After reversing himself on war powers, indefinite detention, and signing statements, don't think he lacks the cynicism to do it. Isn't American politics wonderful?

The Debate Zing: Says Mitt Romney, "And Barack, I was disappointed that you chose as your campaign song a very catchy tune by a very talented artist, but one with some misogynistic lyrics about a female's behind and a revealing type of undergarment."

The Retort: "Well let me first say, Jay Z is a very generous friend to an extremely important charity that works with underprivileged children, and I want to thank him for that. Now, as a parent, I do take issue with some of his lyrics, which I think are definitely intended for adult listeners. And of course we never played any of those parts of the song at our campaign rally. What we did do is take a snippet that you hear at basketball games and on television shows, and played that to get people excited. Now, I confess that I wasn't aware of the specific lyrics you just quoted me. So I'll concede that if Americans want a president that knows his flip flo -- excuse me, knows his hip hop, Mitt Romney might be the right choice. But let me tell you, there's a lot more to the job."

Other candidates: Mike Huckabee, "Don't Stop Believing." (Or "Who Are You" for the trifecta of Boomer appeal, Birther dog whistle, and innocent hip-Christian explanation.) Donald Trump, "Life's Been Good." Gary Johnson, "Won't Get Fooled Again," an attempt at the first ironic campaign song.

Image credit: Reuters

Drop-down image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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