The GOP Needs to Learn to Read Lyrics

One of the common elements of political campaigns over the last few decades is the use of popular songs during campaign appearances, often highly inappropriate given the content of the songs. This began, famously, with Ronald Reagan using Springsteen’s Born in the USA without a clue what the song was actually about. David Masciotra notes the same thing about John Mellencamp:

Without fail, every campaign season an ambitious Republican candidate adopts “Small Town,” “Pink Houses,” “Our Country,” or another Mellencamp hit as entrance music. And without fail, John Mellencamp politely requests that the politician stop playing his songs at rallies.

He has performed at rallies for noble causes. Mellencamp is one of the founding board members of Farm Aid—the longest running benefit show in American history, providing assistance to small family farmers—and he has lent his talents to the fundraising campaigns of homeless shelters, children’s hospitals, and even independent bookstores. He is one of the few musicians to perform for the troops and their families at Walter Reed Army Medical Center…

John Mellencamp is not a Republican. He is a self-avowed liberal—but his is a community-based leftism that distrusts bureaucracy and hates paternalism, yet believes in social assistance for the poor, sick, and hungry, the widows and orphans that the Bible identifies. Mellencamp inhabits common ground with libertarians on social issues, and he is a consistent opponent of war and foreign intervention, but he does not believe that an unfettered free market will solve every social problem.

Sounds a lot like me.

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  • slc1

    Rather interesting that Ronnie the rat used a song by Bruce Springsteen in his campaigns. Springsteen is a long time liberal Democrat and good buddy of President Obama.

  • arakasi

    Years back, I saw a comedian riff on a bill in the NJ legislature to make Springsteen’s “Born to Run” the New Jersey state song. All he had to do was recite the lyrics:

    “It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap

    We gotta get out while we’re young

    ’cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run”

  • otrame


    You forgot the line just above that:

    “Baby, this town rips the bones from your back”

    I remember hearing about proposal and IIRC, I hurt myaelf laughing.

  • pHred

    Every year the country club across the street from my house, which costs several thousand dollars a year to join and is located in a hideously Republican district (we were surrounded by Romney signs – help!) sets of fireworks for the 4th of July and every year they play the same music – it is the only time that they play LOUD country songs about how great ‘Amricka’ is (barf) and they play Mellencamp and Springsteen. They are utterly demented, have clearly NEVER listed to the lyrics of these songs and have no clue that they are exactly the sort of people these songs rail against. It makes the 4th a surreal experience every year.

  • Trebuchet

    They’d better just stick to Lee Greenwood. Of course, that song is dangerously close to self-parody.

  • Ed “Sounds a lot like me.”

    When you sing?…

  • jnorris

    pHerd in #4, it’s very hard to understand to Mellencamp and Springsteen after walking a brutal 18 holes and tossing back martinis and French Freedom Champagne.

  • John Horstman

    Sounds a lot like a lot of the Left.

  • Add “Fortunate Son” to the list of songs that Republicans can’t hear all the lyrics to.

  • Skip White

    For some reason, I’m reminded of the time when Richard Nixon asked Johnny Cash to play “Okie from Muskogee” at the White House, and Cash refused and played “The Man in Black” and “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” instead.

  • Michael Heath

    David Masciotra writes:

    John Mellencamp is not a Republican. He is a self-avowed liberal . . . […] Mellencamp inhabits common ground with libertarians on social issues . . .

    This false meme never dies. There’s no need to reference libertarians if we’ve already described Mr. Mellencamp as a liberal. Liberalism on social issues is an attribute of liberalism.

    And libertarians are not the originators of liberalism in relation to social issues, liberals are. Nor is liberality in relation to social issues an attribute of libertarianism. Many libertarians, especially those with political power, either ignore social issues or advocate for so-called states rights, where people’s equal rights are discriminated against at the state level and where these same libertarians support a weak federal government incapable of defending people’s rights when state and local powers discriminate against them.

    The high ground is liberalism, not libertarianism.

  • eric

    Its not at all surprising that they can’t understand a whole rock song. The first amendment is only 45 words long and they get that wrong all the time.

  • jameshanley

    Michael Heath @11,

    Ed said “common ground,” not “high ground.” Nice switch-up there–you combatted a claim he didn’t make.

  • Rip Steakface

    Don’t worry, sometime they’ll finally give up the guise and use Accidental Racist as a campaign theme song.

  • scienceavenger

    I once had a conservative secretary that proudly shared with the office the story of how she explained to her child that Talking Heads lyrics don’t mean anything. She too loved Born in the USA.

    As for John “Mencia” Mellencamp, he’s lucky people don’t pay attention to lyrics (or the details of songs in general), or he’d have been recognized as the hack plagiarist he is long ago. He owes Bobby Fuller and The Romantics royalties, among others.

  • Michael Heath

    James Hanley writes:

    Michael Heath @11,

    Ed said “common ground,” not “high ground.” Nice switch-up there–you combatted a claim he didn’t make.

    I wasn’t quoting Ed, I was quoting David Masciotra. My point here doesn’t depend on “common ground” or my misconstruing the term, but instead Mr. Masciotra’s raising libertarianism when describing Mr. Mellencamp’s position on social issues; who is not referred to as a libertarian but instead a liberal. So, why bring up a completely different ideology in order to describe someone from another ideology? Especially when Mellencamp’s supposed ideology is an attribute while the other group’s ideology is not as practiced by at least those with influence and power.

    It’s a common reference and it’s wrong. Liberalism has a long way to go to get people to properly understand its attributes given the smears they suffered from the Gingrich era, while libertarians glide along with their talking points being very different than the policies that they actually influence.

  • imthegenieicandoanything

    It’s because they, like the famous Emperor of the HCA fairy tale, are so utterly cluelessly vain and self-absorbed that they ONLY hear flattery, if allowed. And nothing earns their hatred, vicious and endless, than having their illusions pricked.

    The amazing thing is that, even when their fatuous illusion is broken, they can pull it back together effortlessly – once the “child” who broke it is dead, or imprisoned far away. Dishonesty is its own reward, after all. And punishment.

  • jameshanley

    Michael Heath,

    You’re right, that wasn’t Ed. My bad.

    On the rest, you’re absolutely wrong. Liberalism and libertarianism share some common philosophical

    roots, which is seen where they overlap on some issues, So “common ground” is an accurate descriptive statement.

    By shfting the phrasing to “higher ground” you are trying to downplay the shared soace of the two groups and give primacy to liberals. It’s certainly OK to prefer liberalism, but it’s not ok to do so dishonestly, by falsely stating that the common ground is a “false meme;” by subtly shifting the issue from commonality to a different issue, superiority, while pretending you’re still talking about the same thing, and by falsely claiming the history of liberalism solely for contemporary liberals, ignoring that libertarianism also has close links to classical liberalsm, while contemporary liberalism has had its own evolution since the classic liberal era. That’s not to say libertarians are “more true” to the classic era: both liberals and libertarians are strongly linked to it–it’s their common ancestor–and both have evolved in their own, divergent, oaths away from it.

    Again, I don’t criticize your preference, nor your belief that liberals hold the higher ground. I object to multiple false steps that you took to get there. There is, after all, an honest way to make that claim.

  • madgastronomer

    Also, “Independence Day,” performed by Martina McBride and written by Gretchen Peters, which Sean Hannity used a clip from for ages on his show and which Palin used as her intro at a rally, is about a woman escaping an abusive marriage, which the video implies she does by burning down her house and killing her husband. McBride is a Republican (and an anti-domestic-violence activist) and presumably gave her approval, but Peters hit the roof when Palin used it, and donated her royalties from the election season to Planned Parenthood.

  • Michael Heath


    You continue to misrepresent my point. I suggest, again, reading what I wrote more carefully. That point was my claim it’s absurd to reference a liberal to libertarianism in order to more fully describe that liberal’s position on social issues. It reveals ignorance from the writer regarding the history of liberalism, its impact, and the actual state of libertarianism and its impact on public policy. In this case David Masciotra is my target though I repeatedly see this rhetoric from far too many others since Newt Gingrich turned liberal into a pejorative (though that’s dying off, with some dinosaurs having not gotten the memo).

    There is an arguable rebuttal to make regarding another point I made, which can be separated from my core point above. And that’s my assertion that liberalism on social issues is not a defining attribute of libertarianism if we move beyond their unchallenged talking points, particularly when we consider the effective influence libertarians have on public policy. That does deal with the “common ground” quip; which I reject as being true.

    That’s because I see little to no common ground when we consider those libertarians who actually matter relative to those actually advancing liberalism on social issues; “matter’ because they have power and influence. Of course there are many libertarians who share the liberal’s zeal for the protection of rights, probably more than those who aren’t advocates or opponents, but those liberal libertarians are few in number relative to the population and have little impact on public policy, unlike liberals and unlike those few libertarians who actually have power and influence.

  • ” Liberalism and libertarianism share some common philosophical roots,”

    I admit to hating senseless foreign wars and lovin’ pot; other than those two common philosophical roots, I’m at a loss. {;>)