Watching politicians try to humanize themselves through beloved popular music is a bit like an immovable object meeting an unstoppable force. No matter how hard the campaign tries to make them work together, they just don’t.
At best, politicians open themselves up to lyrical interpretations anathema to their message. At worst, they inadvertently end up embarrassing themselves by provoking backlashes from artists. Here are a few recent gems.
Promo video for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 nomination campaign
When drummer, Bernie-supporter, and founding Bikini Killer Tobi Vail discovered that Clinton’s camp was using the song, she filed a copyright complaint to have it taken down, claiming she was acting on behalf of “scores of Bikini Kill fans.”
2016 Republican National Convention
Afterwards, the estate of George Harrison tweeted: “The unauthorized use of ‘Here Comes the Sun’ at the [convention] is offensive and against the wishes of the George Harrison estate.” Then followed up: “If it had been ‘Beware of Darkness,’ we might have approved it!”
Ross Perot for his 1996 Reform Party presidential campaign
Perhaps Perot was attempting to make some sort of point about the Washington establishment that Admiral Stockdale’s “Gridlock!” failed to make, but given the candidate’s eccentric personality, a rather different reading ended up landing.
Adapted as “Dole Man” for Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign
This one almost makes you feel sorry for Dole. The then seventy-three-year-old had a hard enough time making himself seem hip next to the far-younger incumbent Bill Clinton without awkwardly inserting his name into one of the best-known soul songs of all time.
Rudy Giuliani’s run for the 2008 Republican nomination
On top of the shameless sacrilege it takes for any conservative to appropriate The Clash, how exactly does the man who turned whole swaths of New York City into Disneyland think it’s a good idea to use a song about the cool rebel street kids that his mayoral administration spent ten years locking up?
John Kerry’s presidential campaign, 2004
Seeming to highlight Kerry’s transformation from Vietnam Veteran Against the War to pro-war Democrat, this sixties antiwar favorite inadvertently pointed to the gap between working-class soldiers and Kerry’s blue-blooded roots.
Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign, 1984
Easily the best-known campaign song flub in recent American presidential history, Reagan’s people clearly missed that to Springsteen’s returning Vietnam vet, being “born in the USA” is a burden more than a point of pride.
George H. W. Bush’s presidential campaign, 1988
The arch-conservative Bush the First uses a song about the evils of private property written by a lifelong communist. What more can be said here?