Various factors go into evaluating a president, and for me—though it's far down the list—music is one of them. And the past few administrations have set the bar pretty low. Remember when Ronald Reagan tried to co-opt Springsteen's "Born In the USA"—and the left-leaning Boss quickly put the kibosh on it? When you think of George Bush (the elder) what music comes to mind? Nothing. Bill Clinton's dreadful sax and the Fleetwood Mac theme song felt so contrived and focus-grouped. (Aretha Franklin performed at Clinton's inaugural, so we'll give him a gold star for that.) Dubya tapped Ricky Martin for his inaugural ball, but that seemed like little more than political pandering. Of course, Bush has inspired dozens of protest songs, some of them quite good, but that doesn't really count.
With all this in mind, the prospect of an Obama presidency has me excited. At February's campaign stop at First Mariner Arena, the p.a. pumped out Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming," Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and Kool and the Gang's "Celebration." And after Obama's speech the night he clinched the nomination, they played U2's "Beautiful Day," Stevie's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and Springsteen's "The Rising" over the arena's sound system. Indie faves The Decemberists and Arcade Fire have played Obama rallies, and the likes of REM, Wilco, Macy Gray, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Dylan have endorsed him. With regards to music, that's progress and change.
To be fair, I tried to get a handle on what music McCain might bring to the dance. Apparently, he was playing John Mellencamp's "Pink Houses" at campaign rallies before Mellencamp (a Springsteen-esque lefty) asked him to stop. I also recall McCain singing "Bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." And he reportedly listens to Abba's "Take a Chance On Me" to get himself pumped up before major speeches. He's been quoted as saying that, if elected, "the background music would be ABBA in the elevators all over the White House.”
So it's not just positions on the war, taxes, and civil liberties that distinguish these candidates. It's also music. Come election day, will it be saber rattling, surf's up nostalgia, and piped-in Swedish drivel, or something more diverse, inspiring, and thoughtful? The choice is ours.